Australia : Threats, abuse of power, demands for sex ?" modern slavery is happening in Australia
Modern slavery is happening here and now in Australia, and it doesn’t occur in a vacuum.
Australia has had a counter-trafficking framework in place since 2004. That framework was
improved in 2013 when the government strengthened and expanded legislation to include more subtle forms of coercion and psychological control—two things that distinguish modern slavery from historical chattel slavery. A specialist support program and visa framework exists for survivors and there is even a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery. Given this, how is it that so many Australian’s still think this is something that happens overseas?
Whilst great efforts have gone into the response side, we have fallen short on the action side- the side that brings this issue into the public consciousness and the remit of first responders likely to encounter potential victims at the community level. The consequence is falsely low statistics and justification to maintain the status quo.
Similar to the advancements we have made in bringing domestic violence to the fore, we need public education to build knowledge of the problem and accountability to act. In addition to ourselves, we also need to demand accountability of our elected officials to take this issue seriously and allocate appropriate resources for a concerted and comprehensive national anti-slavery campaign.
Heather Moore, on Insight
Beyond acknowledging that slavery actually exists lies the more difficult task of recognising it when it happens. The real challenge is in determining when exploitative work becomes forced work. What constitutes free will? How do we determine when a person, who by all accounts appears to be free, is actually unfree?
Many stories have emerged of threats, abuse of power, and demands for sexual services, yet the conversation seems to remain about industrial relations. Stories reveal the pervasive trend of employers taking advantage of their workers’ desperation and reliance on them to remain and work legally in Australia. Workers are told if they don’t accept the terms of employment, they will lose their sponsorship—essentially a veiled threat of deportation. Why does this not constitute a slavery-related offence?
A number of factors often dissuade these workers from speaking up about their experiences: lack of information, lack of access to community-based support for temporary workers, and lack of confidence their rights will be protected if they report unlawful workplace conduct. For individuals who are unlawful, the disincentive is even higher; and it’s the offending employer who wins, time and time again.
The exploitation of other people isn’t someone else’s business; it’s everyone’s business.
So it doesn’t matter how much we increase the penalties if employers know workers are too desperate, too scared or too unsure to expose them. And if we can’t protect people from basic wage theft and unfair dismissal, we cannot even begin to combat the likes of human trafficking and forced labour.
To address the spectrum of exploitation requires a significant shift in industrial relations, migration and anti-slavery policy. This must include entitlement to basic industrial protections, regardless of immigration status, and support to fulfil that entitlement.
The status quo is not acceptable. Despite overwhelming evidence, I am distressed to hear people still questioning whether we have a significant problem here. My first and, admittedly, self-righteous response tends to be: is there an acceptable number of slaves? Is there an acceptable threshold for suffering? I think most of us would answer “no”, but we need to take the next step. The exploitation of other people isn’t someone else’s business; it’s everyone’s business.
Heather Moore is the National Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for the Salvation Army's Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery.
She is also a guest on this week's Insight program, looking at the pervasiveness of forced labour and exploitation in Australia | Fair Work, Fair Pay - Tuesday 26 July, 8:30pm SBS | Repeats Wednesday 3:30pm or catch up online now: