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Ex-boss who dudded couple out of $85k faces jail for slavery offence

“There is a very real prospect that I will impose a penalty that will require you to spend a period of it in custody.”

Shaik hired the woman on a $42,500 salary to work at the Indian Tandoori Restaurant in Wangaratta, with free accommodation for her and her husband.

But, prosecutor Krista Breckweg said, the accommodation was a storeroom above another restaurant in Yarrawonga, and the woman was never paid. The husband also worked in the restaurants and was never paid, but prosecutors do not allege he was forced to do so.

Ms Breckweg said the woman, an Indian national, was reliant on Shaik sponsoring her visa application and so had no choice but to stay in the job.

“He knew that his conduct was forcing her to stay,” the prosecutor said.

“That’s the vulnerability … [the visa] was what she desperately wanted and he knew it.”

The court heard Shaik threatened the woman when she asked about her wages.

He once said he would hit or kill her, and also told her it was not easy getting a visa. The woman took this to be a threat she would have her application withdrawn, and that she faced deportation.

Shaik told the woman, “If you make a complaint I’ll tell them you didn’t come to work because I can do, like, I can say anything.”

The woman said in a victim impact statement the ordeal had left her sad, stressed, unable to sleep and prone to panic attacks. While she and her husband worked for Shaik they were reliant on hand-outs from family, couldn’t afford healthy food and considered suicide.

“I was watching myself falling down in my own self image,” she said.

“I was just in shock to think that this can happen in Australia. How can an employer not [pay] tax and superannuation to [the] Australian government and saying in confidence that ‘No one can catch me’?”

In 2016 the Fair Work Ombudsman ordered Shaik pay the couple $50,800. He did so at $100 a month until a fortnight ago, defence counsel Charles Morgan said, when Shaik paid $7800 to show he was remorseful.

He has paid only half the $50,800 and Ms Breckweg said the couple would never get what they were owed. Shaik’s restaurant business went into liquidation in 2014 and he now cares for his two children while his wife runs a restaurant in Wangaratta.

Judge Cahill questioned whether Shaik was remorseful.

“One hundred dollars a month doesn’t indicate a strong willingness to pay the debt,” he said.

Mr Morgan called for his client to be spared prison for his guilty plea and “advanced” rehabilitation and because his crime didn’t carry the usual characteristics of slavery offences, such as keeping someone against their will.

Prosecutors want Shaik to serve some time in jail to denounce his conduct and deter others from similar offending.

Judge Cahill will sentence on June 22.

If you or anyone you know needs support call Lifeline on 131 114, or Beyond Blue’s coronavirus mental wellbeing support service on 1800 512 348.

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