Former massage therapists say they "have our own voices back" after winning a long and arduous court fight with their former bosses who underpaid them, threatened to have their families killed and subjected them to other illegal restrictions.
The Federal Court in mid October found Foot & Thai Massage, its former director Colin Kenneth Elvin and its former supervisor Jun Millard Puerto breached numerous sections of the Fair Work Act in relation to seven massage therapists recruited from The Philippines under temporary work visas.
These included both men threatening to have the former workers' families in the Philippines killed if they broke any of the rules - including complaining "about anything" - imposed on them.
'There's freedom now'
Former worker Mayet Ortega said she and the group now "have our own voices back".
"Unlike before where we had none. Our hands were tied," Ms Ortega said.
"I feel very lucky to have that [court] decision. We waited so many years for that and it's finally nearly over.
"We can freely express ourselves and there's freedom now."
Delo Be Isugan, who left the parlour in 2015 and also part of the seven who went through the court, said she was happy about the court outcome despite the impact still being felt.
"Even now, it's on my mind and I'm always crying. It's hard," she said.
"I'm free, but I'm always checking behind me in case.
"Even if I'm going to the mall, I'm always checking things. Even if I'm catching a bus. Every time I go out."
Ms Be Isugan said when she went to the Philippines in 2019, a motorcyclist with a full-face helmet parked in front of her and a friend, triggering her to fear that it was someone paid to kill her.
"I was scared, I thought they were going to shoot us. I held my friend and said 'let's get away, let's please go'," she said.
"It's hard, it's traumatising everywhere.
"But the court result was good and I've told my family we won the case."
While the court proceedings are not yet finished, with the final underpayment figure - estimated to be about $1m - and other items still to be determined, Ms Be Isugan said they hoped justice would prevail alongside the truth.
"No one should experience what we went through. I'm hoping no one does," she said.
Former supervisor Jun Puerto said words in Cebuano to the effect of: "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 to get him to kill someone for me," Puerto said.
The court found the parlour, which was wound up in August 2019, did not pay workers their various entitled rates and forced them to be available at any time across 12 hours on the six days they worked between 2012 and 2016.
Elvin was found to have been "knowingly concerned in all of the contraventions" except for two related to payslips.
Puerto was also found to have known most of the breaches.
Another former worker, Crisenta Bantilan, said she was "just very grateful" about the court ruling in their favour after "many years of fighting".
"We wanted to come here because it's a really good country and we didn't expect things to happen like that. It was terrible," she said.
"We feel free now. We're very happy that someone was able to help us in our time of need."
Case shows strength of workers: union
Helping the workers during the ordeal was the United Workers Union.
The union's spokeswoman Erryn Cresshull said the case showed the strength of workers to stand up and hold those in power to account.
"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," Ms Cresshull said.
"For the former workers, it brings to an end an ordeal that began when they were brought from the Philippines to work at the business.
Minister for Industrial Relations and Workplace Safety Mick Gentleman praised the former workers, saying they were "exceptionally brave in coming forward with the support of the United Workers Union".
"The horrific details of this case show us that modern day slavery exists in the ACT," he said.
"These people were stolen from and threatened with harm by their employer, who took advantage of their vulnerability.
"As a government, we are acting to ensure there is no place for modern day slavery in the ACT.
"We have committed to ensuring our legislation can respond to modern day slavery."
He also urged the Commonwealth Government to do the same "especially with regard to the Fair Work Act".
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