'Slavery Is Alive And Well In 21st-Century Australia'
Release date: 20/07/2015
Sun Herald, by Kieran Gair, 19 July 2015
A man trafficked from India under a sham 457 visa arrangement was held in conditions "akin to slavery" for 16 months, a Sydney court has heard.
Dulo Ram lived, ate and slept in the kitchen of Mand's Indian Restaurant in Eastwood, working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, enslaved by the restaurant's owner Divye Trivedi.
Mr Ram was consistently abused, physically and mentally; his young family was the target of Trivedi's regular threats.
Trivedi was the first person in NSW history to be tried and convicted for exploiting someone for forced labour.
David Hillard, pro bono partner at Clayton Utz and the lawyer who took on the civil case for Mr Ram's unpaid wages, said the victim was controlled through intimidation and threats, forced to work and treated as property. "Like many victims of slavery, Mr Ram was brought to Australia by a person whom he thought he could trust. Instead he was severely exploited and forced to work 12-hour days," he said.
"He slept on a mattress in the kitchen and sometimes was forced to bathe in the sink."
Mr Ram was held in servitude unless or until he could pay the money he owed to Trivedi, the man who controlled him.
"Slavery is a symptom of poverty.
Mr Ram was poor, illiterate and from a rural area in India. The combination of those factors made him vulnerable to exploitation," Mr Hillard said.
"The shocking thing that hits home is that this is happening under our noses in suburban Sydney.
Slavery is alive and well in 21stcentury Australia."
Mr Ram met his captor at Sydney airport and was taken to the restaurant that would effectively become his prison. He began work the next day after Trivedi took possession of Mr Ram's passport, telling him he could not leave Australia unless he repaid the $7000 to cover the cost of bringing him to the country.
Mr Ram was functionally illiterate, spoke little English and knew no one in the Australian community.
But after 16 months of forced labour, Mr Ram escaped with the help of a fellow employee and alerted the Australian Federal Police.
"There was a grotesque abuse of the 457 visa program [and the] obvious purpose of Mr Ram being trafficked to Australia under the visa program was for his exploitation in breach of Australian law," Justice Rolf Driver ruled in March.
When the restaurant was visited by officials from the Department of Immigration, it was "fobbed off with lies and fabricated documents".
"[The employer] built a facade upon sham documents, to deceive the Department of Immigration and the ATO and attempted to deceive this court, in an effort to create the illusion that there was an employment arrangement in accordance with Australian law," Justice Driver wrote.
In late March, Trivedi and his company were forced to pay $125,431 for wages, superannuation and annual leave for the 16 months Mr Ram was kept in forced labour. A further $60,607 in interest on the judgment sum was also awarded.
Mr Hillard said the case shed light on the horrific conditions in which foreign workers have been held in Australia.
"We have 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, under our noses."
This year, 457 visas came under fire after slave-like conditions were uncovered on farms supplying Australia's most profitable supermarkets.
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