By David Bates

The wage underpayment scandal that has engulfed Australian-based 7-Eleven franchisees is, without doubt, outrageous. 

One employee has claimed he was paid just 47 cents (yes, cents) per hour, and so far more than 100 7-Eleven employees have received payouts totalling an estimated $2.8m via the independent panel assessing underpayment claims.

This whole saga will eventually prove to be one of the largest instances of ‘wage fraud’ in Australian history. But 7-Eleven franchisees certainly aren’t the only ones breaking Australia’s hopelessly complex employment laws. We know this because the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), Natalie James, told us so in her statement released last Friday. She writes:

“Frankly, I’m sick and tired of seeing matters come before us where people are being paid $10 and $12 an hour, well below the minimum wage. We have minimum pay rates in Australia, they apply to everyone, and they are not negotiable," James said.

"Employers cannot undercut minimum wages, even if their employees offer to accept lower rates – and they must keep accurate time-and-wages records at all times.”

She’s right, we do have minimum pay rates in Australia. Tens of thousands of them in fact. And good luck trying to comply with them. If you’re an employer reading this, there’s an extremely good chance you haven’t met your legal obligations, even though you probably think you have.

Take the Vehicle Manufacturing, Repair, Services, and Retail Award 2010 for example. This is one of the more than 120 modern awards we have here in Australia, and it’s the one that applies to many 7-Eleven franchisees operating a fuel outlet. 

Each modern award is accompanied by a ‘Pay Guide’ – a document which sets out the minimum rates of pay that, as Natalie James helpfully reminds us, cannot be undercut, apply to everyone, and are not negotiable. Take a guess how many pages there are in this Award’s ‘Pay Guide’. 20? 30? 50?

Try 160 pages. Comprised of no less than 33,557 words. 

There are minimum rates for weekdays, then different rates for Saturdays after 12 midday and even more for Sundays and public holidays. Then there are minimum rates for overtime of course, and other rates for juniors, and some other different ones if you use a console, and some other ones if also happen to cook food in the store and others if you attend the driveway. And don’t forget the dirty work allowance, the change-in-locality allowances, the damage to tools and clothing allowance and the first aid allowance. Oh, and the gloves reimbursement, the working away from usual place allowance (but only if you’re not a vehicle salesperson) and the vehicle allowance.

By the way, none of the above allowances may apply at all because this Modern Award applies not only to employees pouring your Slurpee, but also to those who manufacture cars. Confused yet?

And here’s the icing on the cake. If your store isn’t attached to a petrol station, you’re covered by a different Modern Award entirely.

As I said, good luck trying to comply.