Right to freedom from forced work
Section 11 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (the Charter) means that Victorians must not be held in slavery or servitude and they cannot be made to perform forced or compulsory labour. The Charter applies to public authorities in Victoria, such as state and local government departments and agencies, and people delivering services on behalf of the government.
How does the law protect me?
Although slavery and servitude have been against the law across the world for many decades, contemporary forms of slavery and servitude still happen every day. Slavery is when someone exercises ownership rights over another person, as if the person were a piece of property. Someone in servitude may be directed where to live, may have freedoms curtailed and may be unable to leave. Forced labour is when someone is compelled to do work – there may be a physical or mental constraint in this type of work, and it may involve the threat of punishment if the person does not perform the work.
Under the Charter, you cannot be held in slavery or servitude, and you cannot be forced to perform compulsory labour. This does not include work you might be required to do by a court as part of a community service order, work required because of an emergency that threatens the Victorian community, or work that forms part of normal civil obligations, such as jury duty, compulsory fire service or community labour under social welfare programs like ‘work for the dole’ schemes.
Can this right be limited in any way?
As well as being covered by the Charter, the right to freedom from forced work is also covered by international law. It is considered a non-derogable right – that means the government cannot limit or suspend this right under any circumstances.
Sex slavery – R v Wei Tang  HCA 39
In 2008, the High Court of Australia heard a case in which five women from Thailand had come to Australia to work as prostitutes. The owner of the brothel, Ms Wei Tang, had helped the women reach Australia, but she wanted each of them to pay back approximately $40,000 for her assistance. To pay back their debt, the women were required to work in the brothel six days per week and received very little payment for their work. Though the women were not locked up, Ms Tang confiscated their passports and return tickets. The High Court found that, even though the women had consented to work for Mr Tang, the level of control she had over them made this arrangement similar to slavery. The court noted that even if someone has consented to a particular working arrangement, it does not stop it from being slavery.
How we can help
We can give you information about Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities but the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission does not handle complaints related to the Charter.
If you would like more information about the Charter and your rights contact us.
For information about the legal history of this right, case law or Australia’s human rights framework, you can read more in our Policy and Legal sections of this website.
How to make a human rights complaint
If you think your human rights have been breached, you should contact the Victorian Ombudsman.
If you want to make a complaint about police conduct, contact the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission.