27 Mar 2015

Court orders $186,000 in unpaid wages to a man held in "conditions akin to slavery" for 16 months

Sydney, 27 March 2015: The Federal Circuit Court has today ordered a restaurant and its owner to pay $186,000 in wages withheld from a man who was trafficked from India under a sham 457 visa arrangement and held in forced labour, working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, for 16 months.

In Ram v D&D Indian Fine Food Pty Ltd & Trivedi [2015] FCCA 389, Judge Driver found that Mr Divye Kumar Trivedi had trafficked Mr Dulo Ram from rural India, to work at Mr Trivedi's Mand's Indian Restaurant in Eastwood, Sydney. Mr Ram was functionally illiterate, spoke virtually no English and had no contacts in the Australian community.

Mr Ram was held as a slave. He lived, ate, worked and slept in the restaurant kitchen, with only one day off in for 16 months. He was not paid. When the restaurant was visited by the Department of Immigration, it was "fobbed off with lies and fabricated documents". Mr Ram told officials exactly what Mr Trivedi had instructed him to say. The Court found this to be unsurprising - Mr Ram "spoke no English, was alone in this country, was under a trafficking debt, and was afraid".

The Court described a façade built upon sham documents by Mr Trivedi and his company, to deceive the Department of Immigration, the Australian Taxation Office and the Court, in an effort to convey the illusion of a legal employment arrangement. False wage books and time records were created by Mr Trivedi, and a false bank account controlled by Mr Trivedi was opened in Mr Ram's name.

The Court found that the case was a "grotesque abuse of the 457 visa programme", with Mr Ram being trafficked to Australia for "exploitation in breach of Australian law".  

Mr Ram was covered by the Restaurants Employees (State) Award, and the Court ordered that Mr Trivedi and his company pay $125,431.22 for wages, superannuation and annual leave for the 16 month period, as well as a further $60,607.81 in interest on the judgment sum.

This successful case follows 3 years of pro bono representation of Mr Ram by Clayton Utz, and pro bono representation by barristers Yaseen Shariff and Jocelyn Williams. The case was referred to the Clayton Utz Pro Bono practice by Anti-Slavery Australia, a specialist legal research and policy centre focused on the abolition of slavery, trafficking and extreme labour exploitation.

Clayton Utz Pro Bono National Practice Group Leader David Hillard, who led the team representing Mr Ram, said that this case was an important decision which shed light on some of the horrific conditions in which foreign workers have been held in this country.

"Through our work alongside Anti-Slavery Australia, our Pro Bono practice has acted for dozens of people who have experienced unspeakable treatment and indignities at the hands of traffickers, who have forced them into acts of slave labour or sexual servitude as "repayment" of trafficking debts. This is happening right now, in our community, under our noses. This case shows that there are avenues for obtaining justice for the victims of labour trafficking and slavery. Compensation will not erase the demeaning, degrading experience which our client has endured, but it does say plainly that what happened to him was wrong, and cannot be tolerated under Australian law".

This year, Clayton Utz will become the first law firm in Australia to have provided a total of half a million pro bono hours.

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