Australians charged with modern day slavery and jailed

12th Nov 2021

Sydney couple convicted of keeping woman in forced labour at their home

A Sydney couple was recently charged with modern day slavery and sentenced to several years jail for holding a Filipina woman as a slave. For 3 years, the couple forced the woman to work in their home and business without pay.

The woman had been invited to Australia by the wife to work as a nanny and housekeeper. When her tourist visa expired, the couple told her she could not return to the Philippines as she had to repay the cost of their bringing her to the country.

She was told never to leave the home on her own or talk to anyone outside the family. She was warned that disobeying these instructions would lead to her being punished.

Police eventually discovered the woman’s situation and prosecuted the couple with the modern day slavery charge of forced labour. They pleaded guilty and faced a maximum sentence of 9 years.[1]

The woman was sentenced to 3 years’ jail (with 14 months non-parole) and the man was sentenced to 2.5  years’ jail. The couple was ordered to pay the victim $70,000 in reparations.

Melbourne couple charged and sent to prison for modern day slavery practices

Just a week later in Melbourne, another couple was jailed for secretly keeping an Indian woman as a domestic slave. For 8 years she cooked, cleaned and cared for their three children for just $3.39 a day. They kept her passport and barred her from leaving the house.

The woman was found by an ambulance after she collapsed covered in sores and emaciated, weighing just 40kg. The wife had found her and left her lying on the bathroom floor while she attended a school concert. She called emergency response only after she returned.

The couple were found guilty of possessing a slave, an offence that attracts a maximum of 25 years in jail.[2] The wife was sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment (4 years non-parole) and the husband 6 years (3 years non-parole).

The Judge believed it was the first case in an Australian court that involved slavery solely by domestic servitude. Prosecutors said it was the longest period of enslavement the nation has ever seen.

Slavery is illegal in Australia

Modern slavery is a crime that is contained in s270.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (Criminal Code Act). The Code was amended in 2013 under the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act 2013 to include slavery.

In 2018 new legislation was introduced to further combat slavery. Under the Modern Slavery Act 2018 (Cth), businesses are required to report on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains, and to declare what they are doing to address those risks.[3]

Definition of modern day slavery

Section 270.1 of the Criminal Code Act defines slavery as ‘the condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised, including where such a condition results from a debt or contract made by the person’.

This includes forced labour, forced marriage, deceptive recruiting for labour and servitude, and use of coercion, threats or deception that deprive a person of their freedom.

The maximum penalty for forced labour under the anti-slavery legislation is 9 to 12 years, depending on the severity.

Human trafficking and slavery in Australia happening unnoticed

The victims may not be in chains, but these cases demonstrate that slavery-like practices are taking place in Australia.

Most modern day slavery cases involve the sex industry, with women being brought into Australia from Asia, having their passports taken, and being told they must work until they repay the cost of their travel.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) says it received 223 reports of human trafficking and slavery in 2019–2020. There have been 208 reports to police in 2021 so far.[4]

Police urge people to report immediately if they suspect a person is being held as a slave.

This is an edited version of an article first published at Stacks Law.

Emily Wittig is a lawyer at Stacks Collins Thompson in Hornsby with over two years’ post-admission experience. She has a particular focus on employment law, having spent over two years prior to her admission working in employment relations, in both federal and state jurisdictions. She previously worked as a Fair Work inspector for the Fair Work Ombudsman, and as an employment relations adviser for the Motor Traders Association of NSW. Emily volunteers as a solicitor at a community legal centre and enjoys helping people who have been taken for granted by their employer.

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

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Tags: modern slavery