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This factsheet contains an overview of servitude and forced labour in Australia.

Servitude is a slavery-like practice. Servitude violates human rights and is a serious criminal offence in Australia. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights both prohibit slavery and servitude. Servitude in this context is generally considered to be broader than slavery, encapsulating slavery-like practices, and is understood to include forms exploitation which fall short of slavery.


Forced labour is where a person would not consider themselves to be free to stop working or to leave work, because of threats, coercion or deception. Forced labour is a criminal offence in Australia under Division 270.6 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995.

Signs that a person is in a forced labour situation may include:

  • Restrictions on their freedom to move or leave the workplace
  • Removal of identity documents
  • Threats of deportation from the employer

Forced labour occurs in many industries, including agriculture, hospitality, construction and domestic work. People on temporary visas, such as 457 visas or student visas, are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Sometimes it can be difficult to draw the line between a bad or unfair job, and more extreme forms of exploitation such as forced labour. The key factor is whether or not the person is working by their own free choice. At the less extreme end of the spectrum, workers are protected against unfair work conditions by the National Employment Standards, the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Fair Work Commission.

People who have been exploited may be able to receive compensation for wages they have earned that have not been paid. For people who have been subject to forced labour or trafficking, there may also be a criminal prosecution brought by the Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions (CDPP).

More information

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