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A Federal Court ruling that seven former Canberra massage employees are owed around $900,000 brings to an end one of Australia’s worst cases of wage theft and worker abuse.

The judgement finds workers were threatened with either being returned to the Philippines or having their families killed if they reported the business – Canberra’s Foot & Thai Massage – to the authorities.

The judgement supported workers’ evidence that both the director, Colin Kenneth Elvin, and a manager of the business, Jun Millard Puerto, threatened to kill workers’ families, with Mr Puerto telling some of the workers:

“If you ever talk about your salary or the work you’re doing in the shop, I will get someone in the Philippines to kill your family. I have so many connections in the Philippines. My friend kills people as his job and it will only cost me 10,000 pesos ($250) to get him to kill someone for me.”

The court found the business exploited the workers’ vulnerability as temporary visa holders, forcing them to be available at any time across 12 hours on the six days they worked.

They were paid below award rates, and not paid overtime or public holiday rates.

The business also forced six of the massage therapists to pay “cashbacks” to the business from their wages.

The workers – who have been supported throughout this ordeal by United Workers Union – now must wait for a final determination by the court of what they are owed.

“What this case shows is the power of workers to stand up and hold even the most villainous bosses to account,” Erryn Cresshull, co-ordinator of Allied Industries for United Workers Union, said today.

“Through their union and through the current Fair Work Ombudsman case, these workers have bravely fought for their rights – and they did this by standing together and speaking out.

“While this is a victory for working people, it remains a sad fact that some ruthless employers continue to exploit vulnerable workers with wages and conditions that would shock most Australians.

“At United Workers Union we are working to stamp out these practices – in areas as diverse as farm workers, cleaning and hospitality – but more structural change needs to occur including the right of workers to speak out without fear, and the right of workers to bargain collectively across diverse sites.”

For the workers, it brings to an end an ordeal that began when they were brought to work at the business from the Philippines.

Mayet, one of the massage therapists, said after the ruling: “We came here because we believed Australia could offer us a better life. What we experienced was frightening, inhumane treatment.

“It’s only because we were willing to join together as union members that we made change happen.”

ENDS Media Contact: 1300 898 633, [email protected]