Opening statement to the Senate Select Committee on Temporary Migration

30 June 2021

7-Eleven Australia CEO and Managing Director, Angus McKay.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the Committee today, and my apologies for not being able to be there in person.

I would like to start by setting the scene as to why 7-Eleven has taken an active interest in the work of this Committee.

There are almost 9,000 individuals who work within our entire network.

Included in this are 925 Franchisee partners and Directors across 572 franchised stores.

Within our network workforce there are 10 main visa types and approximately 53 visa subclasses represented.

Some 57% of our workforce hold a visa, and 46% of this cohort hold a student visa. That represents about 2,300 individuals.

Our network is a popular employment destination with students, given the flexibility our opening hours provide, the tight community networks and ethnic groups and the large number of store locations.

We have witnessed, and many academic studies have affirmed, that student visa holders are particularly susceptible to exploitation.

We believe this can largely traced back to the limit placed on their hours of work being 20 hours per week. I’ll come back that issue later.

I thought the Committee would be interested to learn of the measures we have put in place to protect all our team members (both directly and indirectly employed), including visa holders, from exploitation.

To allow us to ensure the required employment standards were being met in all stores, our agreement with our franchisees needed to change.

As part of these changes, franchisees committed to using a centralised payroll service and standardised payroll and employment processes. 

The framework we operate allows  us to monitor the standards we expect.

We have rolled out a market leading roster, time and attendance system across the network. This includes:

  • biometric time clocks (thumbprint sign on and off);
  • facial recognition technology and;
  • digital employment processes that provide speed and clarity on practices and documentation.

To support these systems, we have enhanced data monitoring capabilities, an increased in-house auditing team, and an expert investigation service.

Additionally, we’ve provide extensive extra training and resources to our team, franchisees, and to store based team members. Everyone is aware of their rights and responsibilities, and there are helplines to raise concerns. These are confidential if required.

The investment in implementing these systems and processes has cost millions of dollars and taken a significant amount of resources. While the investment was one a business of our scale could commit to, for smaller franchise businesses, the level of investment required may be unachievable.

Yet despite all of this and all the publicity associated with us and other networks or sectors, wage underpayment is still happening today somewhere. The challenge we all need to accept is that it is not always overt, it happens behind closed doors and can be enabled by power imbalances, societal pressures and cost of living pressures.

This leads me to say that we need to have an honest discussion about what are the factors that lead to wage underpayment.

International education has become a large revenue stream for our Universities and Colleges and has become a significant export for Australia. Pre COVID is was worth over $12bn. In my home state of Victoria, pre COVID, it was the second largest export industry.

But this revenue doesn’t come without risk.

I now fear the revenue streams from educating international students are now too good to ignore and that it is such a large proportion of GDP that legislators will overlook the risks associated with this potentially vulnerable group of students.

In short, with a seemingly endless supply of labour, and with students working to pay for their studies, some employers feel they can take advantage of their employees… especially their foreign student employees.

It is broadly accepted that current visa rules do not allow students to legally work enough hours to cover their tuition and living costs, which creates a pool of vulnerable workers at risk of exploitation due to economic needs.

7-Eleven cautiously welcomed the Government’s Migrant Workers’ Taskforce report released in March 2019.

However, we were disappointed the report and recommendations failed to address many of the key deep-seated cultural issues and visa enforcement and restrictions that unfortunately contribute to the vulnerability of migrant workers which we shared with the Taskforce based on our experience.

We have consistently argued that any comprehensive approach needs to include looking at the ‘supply-side’ of the issue, including a mature discussion about the visa restrictions for international students. Sadly, this argument has not been heard.

We need reform of the student visa rules so that students have the necessary financial capacity to support their tuition fees and living expenses for the duration of their course. There by eliminating a key driver of the acceptance of a below award wage.

The government’s recent changes to visa rules where student visa holders can work more than 20 hours in the hospitality and other sectors has resulted in a shift from one employment sector to another.

There is a clear dollar benefit to the student. There is also a simplification in the employment arrangements.

With pre COVID international student levels at >500,000, this significant, flexible and at times ignored workforce needs to be acknowledged and better managed. They are the faces we see behind many shop counters, serving us in restaurants or bars or waiting on street corners to deliver food to our door.

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