The Church of Scientology has violated Australian law by making its employees work up to 72 hours without a break for as little as $10 a week, the Fair Work Ombudsman stated Friday after an 18-month probe.
The ruling came despite the fact that the Scientologists attempted to label some workers as “volunteers” rather than “employees.”
The agency started an investigation in March 2010, after it was reported by the Australian TV network ABC that the church abused its workers and violated the Australian Fair Work Act.
Workers were allegedly directed to work up to 72 hours without a break in order to complete the assigned tasks, for as little as $10 a week at a time, the agency stated. The minimum wage for a full-time adult before shift and weekend penalties is $543.78 for a 38-hour week in Australia, it added.
The agency also found that “a significant level of control and direction was applied to workers by more senior church members who held positions of authority.”
Worker accused the Scientologists of using “unconscionable tactics” to keep them in their work commitment.
The Scientologists declared that, with it being a “religious entity” in the face of the law, “there isn’t any worker relationship or employer relationship,” therefore Fair Work Act could not apply, the Australian agency stated.
It described payments offered to its workers as “a small amount to enable them to perform their duties by covering the cost of travel, babysitters, food and other expenses ... not a reward for services rendered.”
However, the ombudsman office was not convinced and appealed to workers that if they “consider that they are being subjected to intimidation or other illegal pressure to continue to provide their labor, they should contact police.”
“In many instances, the witnesses provided considerable free labor [To The Church of Scientology] over a period of several years,” the ombudsman wrote in a statement. “Where they either knew or ought to have known that they were unlikely to be paid for that work from an early stage.”
The ombudsman also called the Scientology Church a “bureaucratized organization” which appears to have imported practices and procedures into Australia with little thought to workplace relations laws.
The Church of Scientology replied that it duly notes the ombudsman’s recommendations, according to ABC. At the same time, the Scientologist’s legal counsel, Louise McBride, called the agency’s statement "misleading in the extreme."
"The central finding was positive for the church,” she told ABC. “That none of the complainants are employees and were in fact volunteers."
Australia’s Fair Work Ombudsman, is a governmental organization monitoring the job market for potential workers’ rights violations. It opened its investigation into the church’s ways after claims made by ABC’s show Four Corners suggested, on March 18, 2010, that major violations took place in the Scientology churches workforce procedures.