• Boxer Czar Amonsot, who was brought to Australia and made to fight in exploitative conditions. (Insight)
Justice remains out of reach for many victims of forced labour in Australia, with new laws untested and continued difficulty prosecuting exploitation in the shadows.
Madeleine King

25 Jul 2016 - 3:51 PM  UPDATED 2 Dec 2016 - 10:49 AM

Sandra* met her future employers while working for them in Fiji. The money she made was small, but essential to care for her for sons - the youngest of whom was sick - after leaving a problematic marriage. 

When the family offered her a job as a housekeeper at their home in Sydney's western suburbs, along with permanent residency, she trusted in the opportunity. In 2006, she flew to Australia and began work for the family, just a day after after her arrival. 

"I was doing all the housework," she tells Insight's Jenny Brockie. "Gardening, cooking, looking after the two dogs, cleaning the swimming pool and even massag[ing]  the lady of the house."

The work was seven days a week, from roughly 7am to as late as 11pm at night. 

Her movements were tightly controlled: she ate what they told her to eat, when they told her to eat, and she wasn't allowed outside the house unless supervised. A pin number on the house landline restricted her contact with friends and family. She also spoke no English. 

I had no passport, I had no money, I didn't know anyone.

Within two weeks of arriving, the family had removed her passport, claiming the Department of Immigration needed it to process her application for permanent residency. They did not return it. 

Despite asking for her wages, Sandra was also never paid - for three years. 

"I had no idea where to go, who will give me help. I had no passport, I had no money, I didn't know anyone," she says. 

Her situation is not unique, says Laura Vidal, who runs the Salvation Army safe house where Sandra sought refuge after an anonymous tip-off alerted the authorities to Sandra's experience. 

"More than 50 per cent of the people that we support have experienced exploitation and slavery as domestic workers," she says. 

"[Sandra's story] was unique in the sense of how long she was there." 

In 2013, the federal government passed anti-slavery, forced labour and human trafficking legislation to target employers taking advantage of the vulnerability of many foreign workers. 

It was too late for Sandra's case, however.

"There was not a criminal offence that was able to be applied to her particular situation so that meant that nobody was able to be prosecuted." says Vidal. "At the time in which Sandra experienced her situation, there was not any legal protections available to her."

She has since been able to reach a settlement with the family. 


Exploitation still difficult to prove in shadow economy

Even when the law can be come involved, justice is not guaranteed. 

Czar Amonsot began boxing when he was 15 years-old. Growing up in Cebu city, on a central island in the Philippines archipelago, he was one of nine children in a family supported by a single mother. With education off the cards, he worked in a factory by day and trained by night. 

He was talented, accumulating wins after making his professional debut in 2004, locally and internationally. 

After a two year hiatus, a friend put him touch with an Australian citizen who offered to bring him to Australia to compete more and find profitable work. 

But within hours of landing and settling in to the new manager's home - along with three other men - Amonsot was given his duties: cleaning the house, the gym, the kitchen and minding children. Their passports were also taken away. 

Amonsot says the men were forced to sleep in bunks in the family garage with the dogs, and were fed scraps. 

"As a boxer, you need to have nutrition food all the time, as an athlete, you know? But we don't have any vitamins, don't have nothing," he tells Insight

Eventually, one man was able to escape and alert the police. Human trafficking charges were laid, but were dropped before trial due to a lack of evidence. 

A spokesperson from the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) told Insight that "the CDPP formed the view that there was insufficient admissible evidence for there to be a reasonable prospect of conviction for a charge of people trafficking, contrary to s271(1B) of the Criminal Code."

It was a bittersweet outcome for Amonsot. 

"I feel so sad about it ... of all the bad things that we go through and ... doesn't bring success," he says.

"But we still feel good because the Australian [Government] gives us a visa that we can live here and give us a chance to live life here too."

Professor Jennifer Burn, Director of Anti-Slavery Australia, says it "highlights some of the difficulties in the legislative scheme." 

"The trafficking offences are complicated," she says. "They require evidence to be produced across borders, they're transnational investigations and they require an intense resourcing."

The 2013 laws still remain untested, but Burn is hopeful they will remedy the lack of justice formerly unavailable for victims of exploitation. 

"[Prior to 2013], we did not have forced labour offences in Australian law and I think that those [new] offences will transform this area of law on a national level. "


Grassroots help?

Heather Moore, National Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for the Salvation Army's Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery, is also on the show and says awareness of these issues is critical - not just for those vulnerable to exploitation, but the wider community. 

"We need to take the onus off the worker, the vulnerable person, to stand up for themselves and look at how can we as a society break down these barriers that so many people across so many industries are facing to access their basic human rights," she says. 

Are we being acclimatised to these cheaper goods that are built on the backs of exploited labour?

Associate Professor Joo-Cheong Tham, from the University of Melbourne, agrees that the community needs to be more self-reflexive and self-critical around its relationship to industries that may use forced labour. 

"[We] want to highlight the fact that we as a community actually benefit in many ways from exploited labour, whether it be through cheap agricultural products, whether it would be through cheaper restaurant food and so on," he says.

"And I think that's part of the conversation we need to be having ... are we being acclimatised to these cheaper goods that are built on the backs of exploited labour?" 


Hear their full stories and expertise on Insight's Fair Work, Fair Pay, which looks at the pervasiveness and impact of forced labour in Australia | Catch up online now:

Further reading
Horror stories reveal risk of exploitation for foreign workers
A Wolf Creek-esque experience is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to labour exploitation among overseas workers.
What does modern slavery look like?
Australia shares the UK's ranking for modern slavery, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index.
Comment: Too many Australians remain unaware slavery exists in the ‘lucky country’
Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation due to a lack of support networks, limited understanding of Australian workplace relations, or simply a desperation for income.
Comment: In-home child care industry in desperate need of oversight
The broader industry of nannying needs more oversight, writes Erin Riley, where the undervaluing of time and work is rife among its vulnerable workers.
Almost 46 million people trapped in modern slavery: global index
Almost 46 million people are living as slaves globally with the greatest number in India but the highest prevalence in North Korea, according to the third Global Slavery Index launched on Tuesday with Australian actor Russell Crowe.