A temporary visa holder exploited by her boss because of her immigration status has called on other vulnerable workers to speak out after winning a court ruling against her former employer this week.
United Workers Union member Ninumol Abraham was found to have been discriminated against based on her immigration status during her employment at Canberra Indian restaurant Binnys Kathitto.
The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal heard Ms Abraham was forced to work up to 70-hour weeks and had her wages mishandled through a cashback scheme.
Ms Abraham, who started her job at the Canberra restaurant in January 2018, told the tribunal she was required to pay Mr Babu $100 for each day of leave she took and $511.40 in cash each fortnight for what she thought were tax requirements.
When the exploitation was brought to the attention of the United Workers Union they rallied outside the popular restaurant in Braddon in support of Nimumol on 5 September 2019. The resulting public pressure and media attention contributed to its closure.
Comments attributable to United Workers Union spokesperson Erryn Cresshull:
“We know the abuse of Australian workers due to their visa status is widespread. It’s difficult for those affected to get justice and to make real change. But employers who steal from their staff must be held accountable.
“This decision is groundbreaking in this space and the first of its kind. We really hope it signals to workers in similar situations that they can seek help, they can pursue their rights and that their union is here to help them.
“Ninumol’s workplace was located literally next door to the Department of Home Affairs. And it’s shocking that this fact was used to intimidate our members, that they were told they had to cop the cashback scam.
“Workers shouldn’t have to worry about their bosses ripping them off, this exploitative behaviour has got to stop.
“Union members like Ninumol will continue to fight to restore the notion of a ‘fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work’ for every worker.”
Comments attributable to United Workers Union member Ninumol Abraham:
“It was so emotional – I couldn’t look after my kids and I had no family life. I was fearing for my kids’ future and my future. I don’t want to remember those days in my life. But I am now happy because I got justice.
“I would say to people who are suffering like this, come forward, no one needs to suffer like this – it’s like modern slavery so please come forward and tell your story.
“I let the union know what was happening and they helped me understand my rights and encouraged me to take action.”
Extract from the tribunal’s decision:
I am satisfied that the applicant’s immigration status was a genuine and not insubstantial reason for why the applicant worked longer hours than contractually.
I am satisfied that on a number of occasions Mr Babu did threaten the applicant, that unless she complied with his demands, she would be sacked with the consequence that her 457 visa would be cancelled.
I accept that the applicant was scared that if she did not comply with those demands she would be fired, and the respondent or Mr Babu would take steps to have her 457 visa cancelled by the immigration authorities.
From the applicant’s perspective, if the applicant didn’t do the extra work or pay the respondent the $511.40 per fortnight, she could be fired and her privilege of living in Australia could be cancelled.
This is not the type of threat that could successfully be held over an Australian citizen or a person with the rights of a permanent resident.
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