01/03/2017 12:53 PM AEDT | Updated 01/03/2017 3:46 PM AEDT

Caltex Franchisees Protest Against Company's 'Heavy-Handedness'

Franchisees could reportedly pay up to $10,000 for the cost of compulsory audits.

Caltex Australia franchisees protested against the company in Martin Place on Wednesday.
Fairfax / Nick Moir
Caltex Australia franchisees protested against the company in Martin Place on Wednesday.

Caltex Australia franchisees protested in Sydney's Martin Place on Wednesday over allegations made by the company that some franchises were underpaying their employees.

One hundred and fifty-five sites are currently being audited by Caltex, which told The Huffington Post that it may recover costs from franchise operators if they are found to be in breach of their agreements.

A spokesperson for the franchisees said that the protests were a response to the "heavy-handedness" of the company in regards to the auditing process and as well as the allegations of underpayment, which have the potential to taint a number of its franchisees as exploitative operators.

In the audits, Caltex has allegedly compelled documents from franchisees such as the visas and passports of employees, however if they comply they would be in breach of the Privacy Act, according to lawyer Tean Kerr who is representing a number of franchisees.

"I think the auditors themselves are very aggressive where they are asking [for] staff personal details in terms of visas and passports, [which] under the Privacy Act, we can't give them," a spokesperson told HuffPost Australia.

"We have to break the law to comply with the agreement and if we don't they have threatened us in writing to terminate our agreement.

Fairfax / Nick Moir
A lawyer representing the franchisees has said that they operate under "oppressive franchise terms" imposed by Caltex.

"There are better ways of doing this -- we are all against a small minority of people who may have broken the law. We want to eradicate that as much as possible."

According to Kerr, franchisees could be charged nearly $10,000 by Caltex for the audits should they be found to be in breach of their agreements.

"Caltex has publicly stated that it has retained one of the largest global accounting firms to conduct exhaustive audits of each and every Caltex franchise and will charge those franchises for the costs of the audit which it estimates at $10,000 per franchise," he told HuffPost Australia.

"Given the vast amount of documents Caltex is compelling from franchisees, the Caltex franchises have expressed concern that this is not a realistic estimate of the likely costs they will be asked to pay."

Caltex allegedly failed to educate franchisees on the proper payment of wages during initial training programs according to the spokesperson, however the company has denied this.

"When franchisees enter into agreements with Caltex Australia they undertake to comply with all laws, including workplace obligations," a Caltex spokesperson told HuffPost Australia.

"Caltex Australia always recommends franchisees take independent legal advice prior to entering these agreements and initial training also covers the proper payment of wages."