Thursday, September 01, 2016

7-Eleven's Claims it's on top of Wage Fraud irk Lawyers

Claims made by 7-Eleven that its new wages compensation panel was processing claims faster than the former Fels Wages Fairness Panel that it controversially replaced in May have been discredited by lawyers as "laughable".

7-Eleven made the claims in a series of advertisements and in a press release on Tuesday in response to a Fairfax Media article that the Fair Work Ombudsman had launched fresh investigations into the scandal-ridden convenience store chain.

The wage fraud scandal, exposed a year ago, sparked a Senate inquiry and forced 7-Eleven to change its business model and set up a compensation scheme for workers, initially headed by Allan Fels before the company sacked him in May.

Professor Fels rejected claims that the new panel was faster. He said days before his sacking he provided Deloitte with a set of projections and graphs, which indicated that by the end of August 1000 claims would have been processed, estimated at $40 million. Professor Fels was sacked by 7-Eleven after refusing to agree to new conditions that the company wanted to introduce that he believed would make the wage panel "bogus".

"It isn't true to say there has been a speeding up of the processing," he said. 7-Eleven revealed last week that it had paid 680 workers a total of $26 million of which 422 were processed under Professor Fels. "How can that be faster," he said. 

A spokesman for 7-Eleven said the internal panel in the past seven days had completed 30 additional claims.

He claimed the process was nearly twice as fast as the Fels panel, which processed 53 claims a month from the first day of its inception to its closure on May 11, compared to the company's process which processed 96 claims per month over the "three months" since.

Describing what he considers a "sacking," Prof Allen Fels told Leigh Sales he thinks 7-11 are trying to minimise their payout to underpaid workers, and that a culture of illegality could return to the troubled company.

Professor Fels said this calculation does not take into account that his panel took time to get the processes in place, but by the time he was sacked the momentum had built to be far greater than the current panel's.

Maurice Blackburn principal Giri Sivaraman, whose firm is representing 77 exploited workers pro bono, described the 7-Eleven advertisement and press release as "laughable".

"The simple fact is that not a single one of our clients' claims have been processed and paid since the Fels panel was dissolved. Not a single one," said Mr Sivaraman, who is heading up a team of lawyers who are helping victims of wage fraud lodge back-pay claims.

"It's like a slap in the face for them to see a press release and an ad in the newspaper that their claims are being processed more quickly now post Fels' panel," he said.

Mr Sivaraman said since Professor Fels was sacked in favour of an in-house model, the panel had lost 13 claims submitted by his clients. He said the new panel had asked clients to provide information that had already been submitted or were asked to resubmit information in a new format – months after the original back-pay claim had been lodged.

"I truly hope that they're not victimising our clients because they've got legal assistance and they've got lawyers who have stood up for them," Mr Sivaraman said.

He also rejected 7-Eleven's claim that the new process has been "designed to be as simple as possible for claimants".

"My message to 7-Eleven is to genuinely practise what you preach, because that hasn't happened," Mr Sivaraman said.

"Just putting out a press release saying you're doing something doesn't mean you're doing it, especially when it's completely contradicted by the experience of our clients".

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