Journal article

Remedies for migrant worker exploitation in Australia: lessons from the 7-Eleven wages repayment program

Wages Work insecurity Immigration Part-time employment Australia

Temporary migrants comprise approximately 11% of the Australian workforce and are systemically underpaid across a range of industries. The most vulnerable of these workers (including international students and backpackers) rarely successfully recover unpaid wages and entitlements. In 2015, media revealed systematic exploitation of 7-Eleven’s international student workforce, reflecting practices that have since been identified in other major Australian franchises. In an unprecedented response, 7-Eleven head office established a wage repayment program, which operated until February 2017. As of mid- 2017, the program had determined claims worth over $150 million — by far the highest rectification of unpaid wages in Australian history. Drawing on interviews with international students and a range of stakeholders across Australia, this article uses 7-Eleven as a case study to illuminate systemic barriers that prevent temporary migrants from accessing remedies for unpaid entitlements within existing legal and institutional frameworks. We identify the unique attributes of the 7-Eleven wage repayment program that have contributed to its unusual accessibility and efficacy, and which may point to conditions needed to improve temporary migrants’ access to justice through state-based institutions and business-led redress processes.

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