Remedies for Migrant Worker Exploitation in Australia: Lessons from the 7-Eleven Wage Repayment Program

50 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2018

See all articles by Laurie Berg

Laurie Berg

University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Law

Bassina Farbenblum

University of New South Wales (UNSW)

Date Written: February 2018

Abstract

Temporary migrants comprise approximately 11% of the Australian workforce and are systemically underpaid across a range of industries. The most vulnerable of these workers (including international students and backpackers) rarely successfully recover unpaid wages and entitlements. In 2015, media revealed systematic exploitation of 7-Eleven’s international student workforce, reflecting practices that have since been identified in other major Australian franchises. In an unprecedented response, 7-Eleven head office established a wage repayment program, which operated until February 2017. As of mid-2017, the program had determined claims worth over $150 million — by far the highest rectification of unpaid wages in Australian history. Drawing on interviews with international students and a range of stakeholders across Australia, this article uses 7-Eleven as a case study to illuminate systemic barriers that prevent temporary migrants from accessing remedies for unpaid entitlements within existing legal and institutional frameworks. We identify the unique attributes of the 7-Eleven wage repayment program that have contributed to its unusual accessibility and efficacy, and which may point to conditions needed to improve temporary migrants’ access to justice through state-based institutions and business-led redress processes.

Keywords: migrant workers, temporary migrants, international students, exploitation, 7-eleven, access to remedy, employment remedies, business and human rights, corporate social responsibility, wage theft, Fair Work Ombudsman, Australia, grievance mechanism, enforcement, access to justice, unpaid wages

JEL Classification: K37, K42, K31

Suggested Citation

Berg, Laurie and Farbenblum, Bassina, Remedies for Migrant Worker Exploitation in Australia: Lessons from the 7-Eleven Wage Repayment Program (February 2018). Melbourne Univeristy Law Review, Vol. 41, No. 3, 2018, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3140091

Laurie Berg

University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Law ( email )

Sydney
Australia

Bassina Farbenblum (Contact Author)

University of New South Wales (UNSW) ( email )

Kensington
High St
Sydney, NSW 2052
Australia

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