7-Eleven Australia defends decision to sack Fels Wages Panel

By @chelean on
7-Eleven
A man walks out from a 7-Eleven convenience store in Tokyo January 8, 2013. Reuters/Yuriko Nakao

7-Eleven Australia has defended its decision to sack the independent wage panel led by Professor Allan Fels. Chairman Michael Smith said it was up to the company to make things right.

On Wednesday, the convenience store giant announced that it would be taking care of the unpaid workers’ wages starting Friday. Fels immediately denied that it was a mutual decision to let go of the panel, claiming 7-Eleven closed down the panel because it did not agree to the changes to the Terms of Reference proposed by the company.

Read: Ex-ACCC chairman Allan Fels lashes out at 7-Eleven Australia for sacking independent wage panel

Smith, however, defended the decision, saying, “I really don’t think we can outsource our morality.” He told the ABC’s 7:30 that the company got rid of the independent group for an internal panel because it’s “a case of taking it fairly on ourselves to make it right.”

Chief executive Angus McKay also said the company couldn’t come to terms with the independent panel, and therefore had to fire them and set up an internal one. He vowed to pay every single worker’s unpaid wage claim, though adding, “My one caveat on that is we’re only going to pay valid claims.”

7-Eleven’s move to ditch the Fels panel did not assure anyone, however. The wage panel was established about Fairfax Media and ABC’s Four Corners exposed 7-Eleven franchisees were paying their workers, who were mostly foreign students, as little as $10 per hour. According to reports, 7-Eleven was well aware of its franchisees’ practice.

Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James “notes with concern” that 7-Eleven chose to terminate the Fels Wages Panel.

“We are yet to be satisfied that 7-Eleven is meeting the expectations we have of it following the public release of our finds on April 9,” she said in a statement, adding that it is possible that the commission will take legal action against more 7-Eleven operators.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also felt that 7-Eleven’s termination of the panel was a “new and disturbing twist.”

“This is exploitation on an industrial scale,” he continued. “I understand that another 2,000 claims have been put on ice. I understand now that the company’s decided they will just check these matters out themselves. I also understand that they’re going to set a higher standard for evidence than the reasonable standard which Professor Fels and other independent people were using. We hear reports about threats to the 7-Eleven workers making claims. I am deeply disturbed at this turn of events. And what is the government doing about it?”