On February 13, more than 100 people rallied outside the Moorabool Street 7-Eleven in the heart of Geelong, Victoria.
The protest called for 7-Eleven to start paying its workers the legal minimum wage and for all unpaid wages to be paid back to them. The rally also demanded that one of the workers, who was sacked for making a complaint, be reinstated.
The operator at this particular store makes any new employees work for up to two months in what he calls an "unpaid trial". When he realised that workers were thinking of reporting his illegal behavior to the Workplace Ombudsman, he threatened them with violence.
The February 13 action was broad and vibrant, with many unions affiliated to the Geelong and Regions Trades and Labour Council (GRTLC) attending. Many 7-Eleven workers, past and present, also came along.
Tim Gooden, GRTLC secretary, chaired, and led the rally in chanting "Low pay? NO WAY!". Anthony Main, secretary of Unite, spoke, explaining that, despite the bullying and intimidation, the workers were not about to back down.
An ex-worker from the store named Kholi, who is still waiting to be paid for working on Christmas Day, also spoke. He gave a first-hand account of the horrible conditions in the store and explained that most of the workers 7-Eleven employ are vulnerable international students.
Due to the low wages they pay, 7-Eleven forces the workers to work over the 20-hour limit imposed by their visa regulations. This is happening on a mass scale. "If we allow them to get away with it here more and more companies will be trying to follow" he said.
Gooden and Main called on 7-Eleven to sort out these problems and to sort them out quickly. As Gooden said, "when you treat Geelong locals like this, you have no longer just involved the workers and Unite. You have involved the entire trade union movement."
If 7-Eleven continue to refuse to stick to the law, further protests both in Geelong and in Melbourne will follow.
[Kirk Leonard is a member of Unite union. Abridged from <http://www.unite.org.au>.]