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17 March 2024, 7:50am
Media Release

AFP warns domestic and overseas workers of forced labour indicators amid rising reports

Editor's note: Vision, images and audio grabs are available via Hightail

The AFP is urging domestic and overseas workers seeking employment in Australia to be aware of forced labour and exploitation indicators, with reports of the crime increasing almost 50 per cent in the past five years.

Since 2018-19, the AFP has received 178 reports relating to forced labour and exploitation – crimes that are forms of human trafficking.

Forced labour is when people are coerced, threatened or deceived into working against their will because they do not consider they are free to stop work, or leave their place of employment.

Signs a person may be a victim include acts of physical and psychological abuse, poor working conditions and being in debt bondage - when a victim believes they have a large debt owing to their employer and must work to pay it off.

Australia is a migration corridor for temporary workers, especially from the Asia-Pacific region.

AFP Commander Helen Schneider said unfortunately migrant workers had been vulnerable to exploitation due to factors such as visa status, limited understanding of Australian worker rights, cultural barriers and social isolation.

"Criminals may use deceptive methods to target vulnerable individuals looking for seasonal or temporary work in Australia before exploiting them into forced labour," Commander Schneider said.

"In a recent investigation, the AFP charged a man who is alleged to have recruited workers via online job advertisements and threatened to have them deported to prevent them from seeking help."

In January this year, a Victorian man was sentenced to 3 years and six months for forced labour offences after coercing a victim to work 14-hour days, seven days a week, in his business for two consecutive years.

The investigation identified the business owner had promised the victim he would help him secure a visa to remain in Australia, while also making threats to report the victim and his family to the authorities for working illegally.

In December, 2023, the AFP arrested and charged a 47-year-old Darwin man with forced labour and servitude offences after he allegedly recruited deckhands through a deceptive online job advertisement.

The man allegedly used an online job board to advertise for deckhands and coxswains to work on his fishing boat from August to December last year.

The victims alleged they were forced to work without pay, were provided with little food and water and held on the man's fishing vessel against their will.

One victim was allegedly so desperate to escape that they jumped from the vessel in the middle of the night into crocodile-infested waters and swam to shore.

The AFP extradited the man from Darwin to Cairns last month (15 February, 2024) on new aggravated servitude and deceptive recruiting charges.

The AFP is urging any victims who worked on the fishing boat in the past 20 years to please come forward and contact the AFP on 131 237 or use the AFP's confidential online form.

Commander Schneider said individuals hired for seasonal or temporary work in the agriculture, construction, hospitality and manufacturing sectors were most at risk of forced labour and exploitation.

"Seasonal work in Australia includes a range of legitimate jobs such as deckhands, fruit pickers and packers, farmhands, laborers, and vineyard workers," Cmdr Schneider said.

"Unfortunately, criminals do take advantage and exploit workers looking for temporary work.

"As demand for seasonal and casual workers increases during the warmer months, we urge individuals to be aware of the indicators of forced labour and ask their employers to provide appropriate documentation and contracts before accepting job offers."

Commander Schneider said reporting forced labour was an important step that ensured the safety of victims and protected them from further abuse and exploitation.

"Some victims of forced labour may view their new working conditions as preferable to those in their country of origin – even though the conditions are extremely exploitative," Cmdr Schneider said.

"This means some victims may feel unwilling or unable to report crimes out of fear of retribution by perpetrators, social isolation and financial dependence on offenders.

"However, all workers in Australia are entitled to a minimum wage and certain conditions. The AFP will continue to work collaboratively with state and territory law enforcement agencies and non-government organisations to combat forced labour and protect vulnerable communities from being subjected to exploitative working conditions."

If you suspect that you or another person is experiencing, or at risk of forced labour, or someone you know is being exploited, help is available. Call 131 AFP (237) or report via the AFP website.

If you have immediate concerns for your safety, the safety of another person, or there is an emergency, dial Triple Zero (000).

If you or someone you know is exploited at work in Australia, visit the Work Right Hub for more information and support.

Anti-Slavery Australia can provide free legal and migration services to people who have experienced, or are at risk of, forced labour in Australia.

The Support for Trafficked People Program is a key component of Australia's response to support victims of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, and is delivered nationally by the Australian Red Cross.

If you or someone you know is being exploited, help is available. For information and confidential advice please contact Australian Red Cross. Call 1800 113 015 or visit the Red Cross website.

As part of the AFP's commitment to combatting human trafficking and slavery offences in Australia, the AFP is using technology as a tool to counter these crimes and has developed a training and awareness program, entitled "Look-a-Little-Deeper" to help state and territory police and other Commonwealth agencies recognise signs of human trafficking and slavery type offences in the community.

The program is estimated to have reached more than 140,000 members of state, territory and Commonwealth agencies over the past four years.

*Reports of forced labour and exploitation received by the AFP between 2018 to 2023 (financial years)

2018/19 FY 2019/20 FY 2020/21FY 2021/22 FY 2022/23 FY TOTAL
29 29 35 42 43 178

Forced labour indicators

The below can be indicators of human trafficking, slavery and slavery-like practices, which are comprehensively criminalised under Divisions 270 and 271 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth):

  • Workers live in places unsuitable for living, such as in agricultural or industrial buildings or in overcrowded or unsafe accommodation.
  • Lack of protective work equipment.
  • No access to earnings or savings.
  • No labour contract.
  • Forced to work excessively long hours.
  • No choice of accommodation.
  • Never leave work premises without being escorted by their employer.
  • Unable to move freely.
  • Disciplined through fines.
  • Subjected to insults, abuse, threats or violence.
  • Employer doesn't provide basic training.
  • Information is provided in languages other than the local language around the workplace.
  • No health and safety notices.
  • Employer or manager being unable to show the documents required for employing workers from other countries.
  • Employer or manager being unable to show records of wages paid to workers.
  • Health and safety equipment being of poor quality or missing.
  • Work equipment being designed or modified so that it can be operated by children.
  • Evidence that labour laws are being breached.
  • Evidence that workers must pay for tools or that costs for food or accommodation are being unlawfully deducted from their wages.

No one single indicator on its own is evidence of modern slavery practices. Each case needs to be considered in its entirety. If you have concerns, call 131 AFP (237) or report via the AFP website.

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