Slave labour in the Blue Mountains
Email Print Normal font Large font July 21, 2006 – 7:36PM
A restaurateur accused of keeping a slave and forcing him to work seven days a week without pay has become the first person in Australia charged with a new people trafficking offence.
Yogalingam Rasalingam, who owns a string of Indian restaurants in the Blue Mountains in NSW, faced Sydney’s Central Local Court today after being arrested when he flew in from India last night.Acting on a tip-off from a human rights institute, Australian Federal Police raided Rasalingam’s Taste of India restaurant in Faulconbridge on July 13, where they discovered 23-year-old Indian man Anbalagan Rajendran. According to tendered police documents, Rasalingam promised Mr Rajendran a better life if he worked for him in Australia, and paid for his flight and visa. But when Mr Rajendran arrived in Sydney on June 1, Rasalingam allegedly took his passport and made him live in a tin shed behind his Faulconbridge home.
Mr Rajendran was allegedly forced to work at least 11 hours a day, seven days a week, as a kitchenhand at Faulconbridge, as well as at Rasalingam’s Star of India restaurants at Glenbrook and Richmond. He was allegedly told he would have to work for four years to pay off a debt for bringing him into Australia. Rasalingam allegedly escorted Mr Rajendran to and from the restaurants, denied him days off and threatened to send him back to India if he did not work every day. Court documents allege he “has had to work every day since he arrived in Australia”, but has been paid no money and has no access to funds. Mr Rajendran was denied painkillers when he complained of pain from standing for long hours and from lifting heavy pots and pans, the court was told.
He phoned his mother in India about his treatment and also contacted his father. Magistrate Allan Moore heard that he is now “in care”. Rasalingam, a father of two who owns four restaurants, was arrested last night when he arrived at Sydney airport after two weeks in India.He was charged with a new people trafficking offence, specifically that he organised Mr Rajendran’s entry to Australia and deceived him about the fact that his entry and stay would involve confiscation of travel documents.
He is the first person charged with this offence, which was introduced last August and carries a maximum penalty of 12 years’ jail. Rasalingam also was charged with intentionally exercising control over a slave, an offence which attracts up to 25 years’ jail. Rasalingam has denied the allegations, telling police he had not formally paid Mr Rajendran because he gave his father in India an advance payment of $7000. He said he had the man’s passport to apply for a tax file number and would have returned it had Mr Rajendran asked for it. “He stated that Rajendran could do whatever he wanted, he just had to ask – but he never did,” police allege.
Mr Moore granted Rasalingam bail, but he will remain in custody until he can raise the required $100,000. His lawyers expect to seek his release on Monday.