7-Eleven urges quick change to student visa program over exploitation risks

One of the nation’s biggest fuel and convenience retailers says stringent rules for overseas workers is fuelling a ‘black market’ economy.

Major fuel and convenience retailer 7-Eleven says the federal government should scrap capped working hours for foreign students as it is leading to vulnerable people being exploited within the workforce.

Fronting a senate committee into Australia’s temporary migration program, 7-Eleven chief executive Angus McKay said overseas students were subject to poorer conditions due to black market style working arrangements fuelled by limited working hours.

Under Australia’s student visa program, a foreigner is only able to work up to 20 hours a week while studying in the country.

Mr McKay warned the number of hours was unrealistically low due to the high cost of living in a major Australian city and it forced students to seek work where the pay was in cash and most likely well below minimum wage.

“Living in our capital cities is not a cheap exercise,” Mr McKay told the committee on Wednesday.

“The current visa rules do not allow students to legally work enough hours to cover their tuition and living costs. It is creating a pool of vulnerable workers at risk of exploitation due to economic needs.”

Mr McKay said overseas students were seen as a cash cow.

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

Overseas students brought in more than $12 billion a year into the Australian economy before the pandemic.

Of the roughly 8800 workers at 7-Eleven, about 2300 are on a student visa.

Under the subclass 500 student visa program, people need to show they can support themselves before entering Australia through bank statements or proof of their parent’s income.

However, Mr McKay said this was a “soft touch” approach and did not address the issue of students being unable to support themselves properly once in Australia.

“There are no pulse checks on the financial situation of students during their studies or indeed any random audits to gain an understanding of their financial health,” the company said in its submission to the committee.

7-Eleven believes changes needed to occur to stamp out “black economy” workers who are not being paid at award rates.

“Our belief is by allowing students to work more hours legitimately more than the current levels that will provide them with greater income … and a by-product in eliminating an element of today’s black economy,” Mr McKay said.

The comments made by 7-Eleven and its CEO come after the organisation was hit with a wage underpayments scandal, where staff were collectively owed $173 million in wages.

It was revealed between September 2015 and February 2020, 7-Eleven franchise owners had been underpaying wages, entitlements and superannuation contributions.

Mr McKay during the Senate hearing said the issue had been resolved and all impacted workers had received pay owing to them.

Extracted from News.com.au

Scroll to Top