A homeless man sleeps under a blanket on the pavement outside a convenience shop in central Sydney March 15, 2012.
A homeless man sleeps under a blanket on the pavement outside a convenience shop in central Sydney March 15, 2012. Reuters/Tim Wimborne

7-Eleven Australia has dumped the wage panel led by former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Professor Allan Fels, who accused the convenience store giant of retaliation after his panel found that 7-Eleven would need to pay $100 million to compensate workers.

In a statement on Wednesday, 7-Eleven said the company and the Fels Wage Panel have “agreed to transition the claims process for past under-payment of wages by franchisees to an independent unit within 7-Eleven.” The Fels Panel will have until Friday before it ceases deliberation.

However, Fels belied the company’s claim, saying the panel was sacked.

According to him, 7-Eleven advised him and economist professor David Cousins that the Fels Wage Fairness Panel would be closed down immediately because the panel did not agree to the fundamental changes to the Terms of Reference proposed by the company.

The changes to the terms would mean the panel would not be independent of the company anymore, with 7-Eleven making the final decisions.

“Already 7-Eleven has in recent times, under its new CEO, broken its commitment to accept the Panel decisions without question. There were quite a few other proposals that also would have emasculated the Panel’s independence and this is unacceptable to the Panel and we advised 7-Eleven of this,” he said in a statement.

Fels said the panel believes there were about 20,000 employees who worked for the company’s franchisees in the last decade and most of them were underpaid by half.

In an interview with the ABC’s “7:30” program on Wednesday night, Fels said the panel had so far paid about 400 claims from workers, about $35,000 each. The figure could get higher, though, as there were about 2,000 more claims they were yet to process. The payout could hit $100 million.

He added that 7-Eleven wanted to set a high standard of proof for further claims, but its franchisees had destroyed their data, an act which “7-Eleven itself abetted that whole process.”

In August 2015, Fairfax Media and Four Corners alleged that 7-Eleven franchisees had underpaid their staff. Then-chairman Russ Withers and CEO Warren Wilmot both resigned in the wake of the scandal, with Angus McKay joining in as the new CEO in March 2016. The Fels Panel was set up in September as an independent board to determine and process the claims made by underpaid staff.