We left everything behind and came to Australia seeking a new life
We left everything behind and came to Australia seeking a new life
It was 13 Feb 2015, we were leaving for Australia, some of our friends had
gathered at the Singapore airport to bid us farewell. They all repeatedly asked, "why do you want to go from this wonderful country(Singapore) when you were doing so great both personally and professionally".
We honestly didn't have any diplomatic answers to their questions.
I looked at my husband deeply as tears welled up in his eyes and there were tears running down my cheeks, in the next couple of hours the Etihad airways flight took off over the Malay peninsula bound for Melbourne.
As the plane lifted into clear blue skies, our mind raced with doubts about whether we had made the right decision to leave Singapore.
We kept wrestling with two-edged thoughts for some time but deep inside we knew that we have taken the right decision and we will surely succeed.
When we landed at Tullamarine airport(Melbourne), an old school friend of my husband picked us up from the airport and we stayed with him for some time. He and his wife were both really kind-hearted people and helped us a lot to understand the administrational and some other basics of living in Australia. We became more determined to learn all about our new adopted country.
Like other fellow immigrants, we lived on a limited budget, spent much of our time looking for work. I failed in my attempts to get me a job but my husband landed a job in Melbourne based restaurant known as Basilico (Family owned business). He was sponsored to work as a Restaurant Manager, his 457 visa was granted in July 2015 and I was part of the package as a dependent.
When we received the news that my husband needs to start work straight away, we were overjoyed and relieved that we finally have achieved one of our primary goals. The excitement of dream settling down in Australia coming true was beyond the description of words. It was a glorious feeling.
It was not long later when our ecstasy turned into a brutal reality. My husband worked in horrendous circumstances for some time without sharing his pain. He finally broke out and told me the truth that how badly he was being treated at work.
We had endured years of torment and abuse at the hands of my husband's employer and the words alone are not enough to reflect the untold ordeal that we suffered in this situation. I would like to share our soul-stirring story that how we had faced formidable obstacles and spend every single day in trauma and great fear.
On the very first day (17 July) he was greatly enthusiastic when he left for work wearing his favorite suit, but to his terrible surprise, he ended up working as a kitchen hand instead of managing the front of the house. He was told to do the things he never expected or performed before. The next day, George (Director and Owner of the company) came to the restaurant and said "Indian can't work as a Restaurant Manager." he made countless offensive remarks about his nationality and color, my husband felt offended and words sunk heavy into his heart but he ignored at first and thought his patience is being tested.
My husband was not allowed to talk to any of the staff from the restaurant, our passports were taken to harass us and made my husband work for 14 long hours a day without a proper break. They used to call him an Indian dog, half breed or blackfella and humiliated him every day making derogatory comments about his appearance. Although he should have got a fair salary and respect
to work for them with dedication, on the contrary, we paid a hefty amount in the name of sponsorship.
My husband was really restless, he couldn't sleep he was obviously devastated with this irrevocable state of adversity. This was an immeasurably complex issue but we were not sure what we would do and where should we go to resolve this affair. We wake up every day telling ourselves that this is a temporary situation and things will get better soon.
At the end of August, he was given a barbaric punishment to stay mute, they didn't allow him to utter a single word at work for one week. He felt he had his voice stolen. His only fault was that he called Kaoula(George's mother/partner in the company) twice in a day to ask about his salary which was pending from the month of July 2015 and she got upset with my husband and issued this freakish order.
After this unethical act, George and his family(George, his mother, sister, and a stakeholder Monit) became even more cruel, implacable and ferocious toward my husband and constrained him to do cleaning and mopping the premises. As an incentive, he was ordered to vacuum their houses and make their bathroom and toilets spotless on off days.
Our passports were still in their possession, my husband rang George and requested him to return our passports as we needed them for the verification purposes (Bank account, Lease, Sim card ). He asked my husband to meet in Albert park and collect the passports from the restaurant( Another outlet of Basilico). As soon as my husband got there he was surrounded by 4 persons including George, Monit (Stakeholder), and two strangers.
These two guys who were unknown to my husband were introduced as the department of immigration officers. They terrorized my husband and said, if you ever disobey whatever they told you to do can be fatal and would result in the cancellation of your visa and deportation. They said, "we can trap you in such dangerous cases that you will rot in jail for the rest of your life".However they returned our passports but my husband was really scared and kept following their vicious and evil strategies without any complaint, they never showed any mercy to the helpless and naive victim of captivity.
Somewhere at the beginning of September, my husband got sick but Kaoula and George didn't permit him to have rest, he collapsed while working, they dragged him in the corner and waited until he regained consciousness, instead of taking him to the hospital he had been forced to complete his shift. My husband returned home and we would never forget that wretched night, he has groaned with pain and discomfort. The next day morning, somehow I brought my husband to the Dandenong clinic. The doctor attended my husband without wasting any minute and diagnosed him with a deadly virus but luckily he survived. The doctor advised my husband to rest but they threatened him that if you did not turn up we will get your visa cancelled. I requested George over the phone and explained to him about my husband's critical condition but he insisted that he would have to report to work tomorrow.
It doesn't end here, the torture of my husband was taken another horrible turn when they ordered my husband to arrange $50,000 otherwise be ready to face the consequences. We didn't have any money to give to them because they just paid him only $490 in wages since he joined but had been forced my husband to work 70 hours a week. I was left all alone who earns, had just got my role started in Woolworth's as casual, It was tragic and one might imagine how we would have handled this situation. We had no money left to pay rentals and bear other expenses, we borrowed money from friends and relatives to manage the financial difficulties.
They crossed all the limits when they petrified my husband by saying that "if we did not get the money before December 2015, we will implicate you in any of the false cases and we will get you arrested". They admitted they have connections with powerful people in police, politics, immigration and other government departments. They can plant drugs into his car and even they can make him accountable for poisoning someone's food at the restaurant. They also said they have ties with members of underworld/bikie gangs and we will disappear without a trace. They'll get us eliminated in such a way that everyone will think that we have been killed in a road accident.
We were horrified and compromised with the situation and paid $25,000 to George and Monit to end this maltreatment. My husband continued working with them in the hope of betterment but it did not happen, after taking that money they demanded that we also have to pay every year's tax and super from our own pocket. This illegitimate and discriminating demand was a violation of our human rights and it was an act of deception and extortion of deprived and vulnerable people like us.
Our irretrievable condition was worsened further and my husband went into depression. At the same time, I was broken from the inside but still tried to console him, his condition deteriorated with each passing day. His hands started shaking, and even he expressed the thoughts he better would suicide to end this misery. I had been trying to get my husband to seek medical and psychological help and thought to report the matter to police or immigration. We were gripped in severe anxiety and desolation and believed that if we spoke out then we wouldn't be listened to and would be ridiculed.
When things went out of control, regardless of the consequences, we quietly notified Fair Work Ombudsman(FWO) to end this nasty nightmare. My husband had his first meeting with FWO in the month of November 2015 and explained everything to the case officer. The case officer was provided with sufficient information and evidence required to investigate the matter.
My husband was in constant touch with FWO and used to inform them on a regular basis about ongoing situations and all means of communication they had during the work. He kept doing exactly as he was directed to do by the FWO officer. The use of the mobile phone at work was not permitted otherwise he would have recorded everything live and given it to the department of immigration and FWO to prove the profusely pathetic phase of his life he was going through.
After a couple of weeks, the case officer informed my husband that FWO will not be taking any further action, now the matter is with the department of immigration, because of the seriousness of allegations and statements made in regards to worker exploitation. We waited patiently for some time and followed the instructions given by FWO but changed nothing, indeed the circumstances were worsened than before.
It was an evening of the last week of December, George and Koula gave the last ultimatum to arrange more money or else, no need to come to work. My husband requested for little more time and a new deadline was set to arrange the money. My husband was told by the FWO officer that he must tell his extremely dangerous and ruthless employer (George/Koula/Monit) that he had filed a complaint in FWO against them but it was not as easy as it sounds. My husband was strongly aware that telling them about the complaint is just like" jumping in lion's den" and he kept quiet for some time. Finally, the deadline we set to pay them more money to save our visa has arrived but we were not in the position to pay any more money to them. My husband apologized for not being able to arrange the money but they didn't listen to anything and told him to go home. They said, "if he doesn't manage to pay, he will no longer be part of the Basilico group". My husband begged of them to give us some more time but they denied.
My husband was coerced to stay at home because we were unable to pay them the money they were asking and continued pushing him via phone calls or messages, anyhow time went by and one morning George and Monit came to our house and we were tremendously appalled when they revealed that they knew we had gone to the FWO. They daringly said that "none of the agencies would go against us, in fact, you have called incalculable troubles for yourself instead ". We made you aware numerous times that this is not your country and your concern is nobodies business here. They were having the information of our every move and left us overwhelmed how they got wind about all this, this hint was enough to make us understand that they really do have connections everywhere and we were going against a cunning and influential plutocrats. It was just the beginning of another doomed and tiring journey on which neither we were going to find a way nor were we going to reach any destination.
We had an extremely hard time focusing, we were swallowed by anxiety and slid into the deepest depths of depression, the deathly impact of ongoing uncertainty and injustice was robbing our peace. We were not just disappointed and hopeless we were absolutely shattered. My husband has been diagnosed with PTSD and we both developed several horrible conditions, we have been in and out of hospitals with physical and psychological problems.
We were living in the shadow of fear and dealt with the threats issued by George/Monit and sometimes people sent by them to intimidate and threaten us. We spent several dreadful nights awake and even the slightest tap on the door was enough to give us horripilation. We were too afraid of going on roads and started looking at every car and truck with suspicion and assuming that they will run us over. If we accidentally came across any motorcyclist we thought he would have been sent by George and Monit to kill us. It's pretty tough for us to recall those sickening days and panic nights.
It's a massive scar that's going to be in our hearts and brains for the rest of our lives. There would be thousands of complaints about the mistreatment at work but when someone's self-esteem is wounded and justice is denied is more like a suicidal.
After much sweat and tears, my husband was offered a job as a Café manager in Melbourne and he worked there for over a year with devotion. The employer never asked to pay any money other than to bear the cost of immigration, my husband finally had a job where hours and duties were exactly as stated in the agreement. The new nomination application was lodged but got rejected in the lack of documents given by the employer. My husband was waiting for the employer to apply one more time as he promised but nearly a year passed, the second application was not submitted. When my husband confronted his boss, he made lame excuses and abandoned him.
Going to the bitter end, my husband was contacted by a person, who pretended to be a genuine employer and we lost another year for nothing more than a pipe dream. He lied to us that he has applied a nomination, in reality, the application for the nomination which he bluffed was never lodged. He also took advantage of us and got away with $5000 and never returned. We were running in every corner of Australia so that we could find a sponsor, some employers showed interest in hiring my husband but they withdrew because of the difficult process and lengthy waiting periods involved in sponsoring someone. My husband applied for every single job listed on various job sites but results were disappointing, some of them did not even consider answering and the rest of them were selling the sponsorship in 50 to 70 grants. We spend a good amount of money on misguided and inattentive legal bits of advice but nothing has changed and we ended up right back where we started.
We were told that investigation has begun, four years have passed since then but still yielded no results. We have neither received any response from immigration nor have the FWO approached us so far. We have lost almost everything in these four years which we will never be able to reclaim again. Last year my father-in-law came to visit us in Australia, he was deeply disturbed and saddened to find us living in a precarious situation. My father-in-law expressed his immense grief to me that our devastating condition had a catastrophic effect on him and he was carrying a lot of pain within. This unexpected blow has contributed to the untimely death of our beloved father. My father-in-law passed away just after the 11 days of his departure from Melbourne. He was visiting my husband's elder brother and his family in New Zealand when he breathed his last breath on 2nd April 2018. No words of mine can ever fully reflect the loss and its aftermath, but we never even would have dreamed anything unfortunate like this. Sadly, the circumstances in which we found ourselves are beyond the explanation and it seems that there is no way to get out of this disaster.
Many of the former colleagues of my husband have paid big amounts to Basilico/GL Corporation (George & Monit) but they don't want to speak up as they feel their visa status will be affected and afraid of getting their PR stripped. Some of them have got citizenship but we spent all of those years waiting for justice and suffered emotional, psychological, and financial types of abuse. How unfair is that they all started working for Basilico nearly at the same time but except us, all of them got citizenship in Australia. We scrupulously followed every immigration regulation, but it turns out futile and we are still struggling to stay legally in Australia.
We considered Australia our home and we simply wanted to belong and thrive here. We genuinely have contributed to Australia and we inexorably will continue to be a benefit to Australia and the people of this wonderful country. We humbly participated in some of the Australian charities such as "The Smith Family, Fred Hollows and we've been engaged with a few other organizations as well. We have actively involved ourselves in the help of drought-stricken farmers and bushfires in NSW. We don't have any intentions to grab the limelight by mentioning these things but we wholeheartedly putting all our efforts to be an asset for the Australian community. We sincerely hope that one day we will have the justice we deserve so we will once again be able to live a normal life and help strengthen Australia.
Sadly, we don't know what the future holds for both of us but our only wish is to spend the rest of our lives in this great country and we are sworn that we will continue to make every possible contribution to the progress, unity, and integrity of Australia. In the end, we would humbly request to the government that they should make the necessary reforms in the immigration law so the people suffering at the hands of unscrupulous employers can get fair and quick justice.