Modern slavery in Victorian restaurant: Owner pleads guilty to forced labour
Posted on June 24, 2020
An Indian restaurant owner has been warned by a judge he could be jailed for a modern slavery offence, after he failed to pay $85,000 in wages to a couple who worked for him over 14 months.
Modern slavery refers to situations where coercion, threats or deception are used to exploit victims and undermine their freedom. It is often hidden in restaurants, homes, on farms and on building sites. Only 1 in 5 victims in Australia are detected.
Farok Shaik, who owned six restaurants in Victoria, pleaded guilty to keeping a female employee in forced labour by using threats of violence and deportation to force her to work without pay.
Shaik found the woman, an Indian national, on Gumtree in late 2012, promising to pay her $42,000 a year plus super, and provide visa sponsorship and a unit to live in with her husband. Instead, the couple were forced to live in a storeroom above another restaurant in Yarrawonga, while the woman cooked, cleaned and served food at his restaurants for no pay.
Shaik knew the woman was reliant on him sponsoring her visa application to become a permanent resident, so had no choice but to stay in the job. The court heard he threatened to “kill or hit” her when she asked to be paid, abused her work efforts and threatened her with deportation if she stopped working at his restaurants.
Shaik was prosecuted by the Fair Work Commission in 2015 and was ordered to pay the woman and her husband $50,000.
Anti-Slavery Australia referred the restaurateur to Australian Federal Police, and he was charged in 2017. Shaik has pleaded guilty to causing a person to remain in forced labour, which carries a maximum nine years in prison. Judge Michael Cahill warned the 47-year-old he faces time in custody, and will sentence him in June 2020.
Many businesses may be unaware such incidents of modern slavery occur in Australia, and that they could have instances of modern slavery in their own business or supply chains. However, the Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates 15,000 people are currently living in conditions of modern slavery in Australia.
To assist companies with training employees on modern slavery risk, Allara Learning has developed a new online course Modern Slavery Act Australia - Awareness Training. This is a general training course for all employees on how to understand, identify and report modern slavery in and around the workplace.
This course has been developed in partnership with global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright Australia.
The Australian Parliament passed the Act on 29 November 2018 and the reporting requirement entered into force on 1 January 2019.
The Australian Border Force (ABF) have released information to help reporting entities address the impact of COVID-19.