Sydney couple sentenced for forced labour

A 39-year-old woman and a 47-year-old man were sentenced to imprisonment today for slavery like offences after keeping a woman in forced labour at their Sydney home and business over three years.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) began investigating the matter in July 2017 after receiving a referral from Anti-Slavery Australia regarding a woman from the Philippines who travelled to Australia in May 2013 on a tourist visa.

As a result of investigations, the 39-year-old woman and 47-year-old man were summonsed in October 2019 to appear before the Downing Centre Local Court.

Police alleged that the female victim was invited to Australia by the 39-year-old woman to provide assistance following the birth of a child. After three months when her visa expired, the couple told the victim she would not be allowed to return to the Philippines. She was instructed not to leave the premises on her own, or talk to people outside of the family.

The victim was directed to care for three children, prepare meals and clean the house. From 2014, the victim was also forced to work in a local business owned by the couple, in addition to her household and nanny duties. During this time, the victim was allegedly subject to significant hours of work with minimal pay.

Additionally, police alleged that the victim attended a local hospital for a medical procedure and was instructed by the couple to give a misleading statement to hospital staff in order to receive free public healthcare under the Medicare system. Upon her release, the victim was made to commence her duties the next day.

The couple exerted significant psychological control over the victim by engaging in repeated coercive and deceptive behaviour, forcing the woman to obey their instructions for fear that any refusal would lead to punishment. The couple constantly attempted to make the victim feel indebted to them by reminding her of the expenses they had paid to keep her in Australia.

In October 2020, the couple both entered guilty pleas for a range of offences, including the modern slavery charge of forced labour.

The 39-year-old woman pleaded guilty to the charge of causing a person to enter into or remain in forced labour contrary to section 270.6A(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). The maximum penalty for this offence is 9 years imprisonment.

Her husband pleaded guilty to the charge of conducting a business involving forced labour, contrary to section 270.6A(2) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth). The maximum penalty for this offence is 9 years imprisonment.

Both pleaded guilty to the following two charges:

  • Harbouring an unlawful non-citizen, contrary to section 233E(3) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth). The maximum penalty for this offence is 10 years imprisonment.
  • Making or authorising a false statement for benefits, contrary to section 128B(1) of the Health Insurance Act 1973 (Cth).

Today (Friday, 25 June 2021), the woman was sentenced to serve three years and three months in prison with a non-parole period of 14 months and ordered to pay $45,000 in reparations to the victim.

The man was sentenced to serve two years and six months in prison and pay $25,000 in reparations to the victim. His sentencing has been held over after the judge ordered a home detention assessment to determine whether his sentence would be served in prison or as an Intensive Corrections Order (ICO).

Detective Superintendent Paula Hudson of the AFP’s Human Trafficking specialist command, said while the AFP is the lead agency for investigating modern slavery, everyone has a role to play in stopping it.

“It is apparent that there is a perception that human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices is not an Australian issue and that it does not occur in Australia. Nothing could be further from the truth – human trafficking is occurring in Australia and it is everyone’s responsibility to identify and report.

“Anyone can come across indicators of modern slavery, so it is important to report things that seem suspicious. That could be someone who’s working, living or travelling arrangements seem restricted or controlled. Every member of our community can help by keeping an eye out for the signs that someone is a victim of modern slavery. It could be your neighbour or a member of your community.”

Anti-Slavery Australia Professor Jennifer Burn said it is important that victims know help is available.

“Victims and survivors trust us to help them find justice. Modern slavery can take many forms, but it is always about the cruel control of a person at risk of exploitation,” Professor Burn said.

For the financial year 2019/2020, the AFP received 223 reports of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like offences. So far this financial year the AFP has received 208 reports.

If you are at risk of modern slavery or know someone who may be at risk, contact Anti-Slavery Australia on (02) 9514 8115 for free and confidential legal advice or the Australian Red Cross on (03) 9345 1800. Anyone with information on human trafficking occurring in Australia can report it to the AFP on 131 AFP (237) or via www.afp.gov.au

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