Media release: Clayton Utz secures half a million dollars for woman kept as slave in Melbourne

01 Sep 2023
Time to read: 1.5 MIN

The Clayton Utz pro bono team this week has secured $485,411 for former slave Ms N, thanks to an extraordinary direction from the Commonwealth Attorney-General under the Proceeds of Crime Act. The payment represents unpaid wages across years of servitude and comes out of assets seized by the AFP from Ms N's convicted slaveholders.

Background of Ms N's case

Melbourne couple Kumuthini & Kandasamy Kannan were convicted and gaoled by the Victorian Supreme Court in 2021 for the offence of keeping Ms N as a slave in their home between 2007 and 2015. Ms N is now in her 60s and has lived in a Melbourne nursing home since October 2015 with no money, no way of returning to India, and has serious lifelong health challenges due to untreated diabetes during her time as a slave.

Ms N grew up in a village in rural India. She left school aged six, cannot read or write, and speaks no English. The Kannans arranged and paid for her travel from India, to work as their domestic servant and to care for their three children. Ms N agreed to be paid around $4 per day, to be sent directly to her family in India. When she arrived, the Kannans took her passport.  Ms N had no contacts in Australia, no language, no money and a soon-expired tourist visa. She worked extremely long hours, seven days a week. When she left the Kannans' home unconscious in an ambulance in July 2015, Ms N was gravely ill with hypothermia and sepsis and weighed just 40 kilograms. Mrs Kannan gave false details about Ms N's identity to the paramedics and then to hospital staff.

Legal response

Our team was instructed by Anti-Slavery Australia in July 2021 to assist with bringing an unpaid wages claim for Ms N under the Fair Work Act. Alongside these proceedings, Clayton Utz negotiated with the Commonwealth Attorney-General for an order to be made under the Proceeds of Crime Act to pay Ms N what she should have been paid for the long hours she worked, every day for 8 years, without a day off.

Clayton Utz Pro Bono Partner David Hillard, who led the team for Ms N, says:

"The $485,411 received this week genuinely is a life-changing outcome, which puts Ms N in the position finally to return to her family in India after 16 years. We think it is the largest amount ever recovered by a victim of slavery in Australia. Ms N is so grateful to the Attorney-General for his intervention".

For 14 years, the Clayton Utz pro bono team has explored compensation remedies for victims of slavery in Australia. Mr Hillard said that:

"Slavery did not end in the 19th century. Through our work alongside Anti-Slavery Australia, the Trafficking and Slavery Safe House Program at the Salvation Army and others, our Pro Bono practice has acted for dozens of people who have been brought to Australia and forced into unpaid work as domestic servants or into sexual servitude as "repayment" of trafficking debts. This is happening right now, in our community, under our noses. Ms N's case shows that there are avenues under Australian law to obtain justice for victims of labour trafficking and slavery ".

On 20 September 2023, the Clayton Utz team is acting in another matter, this time in the Federal Court, in a claim brought against former Indian High Commissioner to Australia, Mr Navdeep Suri Singh, by the domestic servant from his Canberra residence.  Mr Suri Singh brought our client to Australia, where it is alleged that he paid her less than $4,000 into an Indian bank account, for over a year's work, 18 hours a day, without a single day off.   

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