International student Pranay Alawala of Pakistan was paid a meager 47 cents an hour working for 7-Eleven chain stores in Australia. The student and his lawyers have brought a growing workers rights scandal in the country to light.
Alawala worked for three different 7-Eleven stores in Brisbane, Australia while he was living in the country on a student visa.
He was paid only 47 cents an hour and when he demanded a better wage, his employer informed him that he was actually working more hours than his visa allowed, according to ABC Australia.
The employer then threatened to tell Australian Immigration officials that Alawala had violated his visa requirements. His choice was to either accept his wage or be deported.
“On his wages it would take a day’s work to be able to buy a cup of coffee,” said lawyer Giri Sivaraman, according to The Huffington Post Australia. “It would take two days’ work to be able to buy a sandwich.”
Alawala found representation with Maurice Blackburn, a firm that is currently representing more than 60 former 7-Eleven employees who claim to have been cheated.
Sivaraman alleged that 7-Eleven franchises in Australia owe $25-50 million in compensation to 60 percent of its employees.
“Without exception, every single worker that we’ve spoken to has been completely unaware of their rights,” Sivaraman said.
“They’re unaware of what they should be paid, their rights in relation to safety, they’re unaware of their rights to take breaks,” Giri continued. “They’re unaware of their right to complain, they’re unaware of who they can complain to.”
Alawala said that 7-Eleven employees are unaware of their rights and afraid to speak up because they are largely working on visas, ignorant of Australian law and fearing that they will be reported to Immigration officials.
“Everyone is scared of deportation,” Alawala told SBS.
Maurice Blackburn lawyers have stated that this scandal is proof that Australia needs to provide better protections for migrant workers.
“Additional resources for education for migrant workers, greater deterrence for employers who exploit migrant workers and penalties, and additional protection for whistleblowers,” Sivaraman recommended.
Alawala was granted $33,000 in back payment from 7-Eleven. He celebrated by purchasing a coffee at a Brisbane cafe.
“(It’s) good (coffee),” Alawala told reporters. “Better than 7-Eleven.”