A UNITE organiser recently interviewed one of our newest members. Below he tells us a bit about his working conditions and life as an international student. Peter (who has withheld his real name for fear of discrimination) is 22 years old and works at a 7-Eleven store in the Melbourne CBD.
UNITE: What led you to first contact UNITE?
Peter: We saw an article about UNITE in the newspaper. They were helping some other shop workers who were being underpaid. We thought maybe they can help 7-Eleven workers as we all get very low pay.
UNITE: How long have you been working for 7-Eleven?
Peter: I have been working at 7-Eleven for just over 6 months. I was training for 1 month and then I got shifts after that. It’s not a very good job but I need the work to pay my way through university. I am studying at Victoria University.
UNITE: What is the pay and conditions like at 7-Eleven?
Peter: I get $10 per hour cash. It’s a flat rate which means it’s the same on day and night shift. I also get a few free drinks from the fridge but I have to pay for food.
I didn’t get paid for my first month when I was training but I was told I would get a pay rise to $11 per hour after the first 6 months. I am still waiting for this though.
I get 3 shifts a week. Sometimes they are at night from about 2am till 7am or during the day I usually work from about from 7am till 7pm. These shifts vary a bit and usually I only get a days notice before I have to work. Without a proper roster it makes it hard to fit in my study.
UNITE: Do you think these pay rates and conditions are unique to your store?
Peter: No, no, no. It is roughly the same at every 7-Eleven store. The highest rate I have heard of is $13 per hour. I even know someone in Queensland that works for 7-Eleven and the situation is the same up there.
UNITE: Do you get pay slips?
Peter: No I just get paid cash from the till. Some of the other workers do get pay slips and get paid by cheque or into their bank account. But the problem is the pay slips are wrong. Say you have worked 20 hours a week, the pay slip says you have only worked 10 hours. So you only get half of what you should. I know some other workers get superannuation but I don’t think I get this.
UNITE: 12 hour shifts are quite long, what about meal breaks?
Peter: No we don’t get breaks. Mostly I work on my own so no one is around to relieve me for a break. My boss told me that the shop must stay open at all times. I usually try to eat something while I am working. If I need to go to the toilet I usually just go quickly when things are slow.
UNITE: 7-Eleven are a big company. Do you know how much money your store turns over?
Peter: I don’t know exactly but the slowest shift I have ever done during the night made over $1000 in sales. Some of the other workers have said that a lot of 7-Elevens in the city regularly take between $10,000 and $20,000 a day!
UNITE: How many people work in your store?
Peter: At the moment there are about 10 workers. We all only get a few shifts a week. This makes it hard as mostly my pay is around $200 per week. Obviously you can not live on this amount so a lot of us have to work two jobs.
The worst thing about this is, being international students, we are not supposed to work more than 20 hours a week. This is a visa requirement. The problem is we are forced to break this rule because the pay is so low.
UNITE: Have you ever complained to the boss about the conditions at work?
Peter: Yes a few of us have raised the problems with the manager. He just said if you don’t like it you can leave. Until we met UNITE we didn’t know that we could do anything about it. We were not told anything about employment law before we started work.
UNITE: What do you think can be done to improve your working conditions?
Peter: We don’t want anything special. We just want to get paid what we are entitled to. If I was getting the minimum wage I wouldn’t need to work so many hours. Then I would have more time for my university work.
I think it is a terrible situation when a big company like 7-Eleven takes advantage of people, especially international students. Many of us have not had any work experience before. 7-Eleven can afford to pay us right, they have lots of money.
UNITE: You have joined UNITE do you think other 7-Eleven workers will join?
Peter: Yes, quite a few of us have already joined. There is a lot of talk about UNITE between 7-Eleven workers especially in the city. At university people are also talking about it. International students always mix together so the word spreads fast.
Some people are saying maybe we need to take action like the taxi drivers did a few months ago. They just stopped work and protested in the city. Maybe UNITE should do something like this.