Church of Scientology faces criminal charges for underpaying workers
September 14, 2011
The Church of Scientology in Australia could face criminal charges and be forced to surrender millions of dollars in back pay after an investigation found it may have broken the law by severely underpaying workers.
Allegations of mistreatment and exploitation by the organisation aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Lateline programme last year prompted the Fair Work Ombudsman to investigate how the church treated its members.
forced abortions, assault, torture, imprisonment, covering up sexual abuse, embezzlement
In the draft copy of the ombudsman's report, which is due out later this week in full, people working for the church tabled allegations of false imprisonment and forced labour.
In some cases, members in the church's elite Sea Org unit, described as the Church's "religious order", said they were made to work for up to seven days for just $10 (£6.50), despite the Church earning millions.
It is not the first time the Church has been accused of treating its members like slaves. In the last few years, Scientologists in America have brought lawsuits against the organisation claiming they were forced to work 20 hours a day without a break for minuscule salaries.
The ombudsman's draft report found that practices described by the church's Australian members may be in breach of criminal laws.
"The Fair Work ombudsman will refer the witnesses' allegations to the relevant authority for further investigation," the draft report said.
The church argued that their religious work was done by volunteers, but the draft report found the organisation had "incorrectly classified as volunteers or voluntary workers people who are entitled to be classified as employees," which means that many current and former workers could be owed large amounts of back pay.
In a statement, the church said the release of the draft report "quite unfair, outrageous and highly unethical."
"The Church completely rejects these claims made by a handful of embittered former members," it said.
But it is not the first time the workings of the highly-secretive organisation have come under scrutiny in Australia.
In 2009, a South Australian senator tabled allegations against the organisation including forced abortions, assault, torture, imprisonment, covering up sexual abuse, embezzlement of church funds and blackmail.
Earlier this year, a senior member of the Church of Scientology was charged with perverting the course of justice.
It was alleged that Jan Eastgate threatened and intimidated an 11-year-old girl into providing false statements to police. She faces 14 years in prison if convicted.
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