A draft report by Australia’s industrial umpire into the Church of Scientology says the group could have potentially breached laws dealing with slavery by underpaying its staff.
A final report by the Fair Work Ombudsman is due for release later this week, but the preliminary report has found some workers were paid as little as $10 a week by the church despite it earning more than $17 million in 2009.
It contains allegations of false imprisonment and forced labour.
“The allegations … may potentially be a breach of the provisions of the Criminal Code Act 1995 dealing with slavery … the Fair Work Ombudsman will refer the witnesses’ allegations to the relevant authority for further investigation,” ABC Television quoted the draft report as saying.
The church had argued that some members were not covered by the Fair Work Act because they were in holy orders.
“This is not a persuasive view and is not consistent with the law,” the report said.
It also found the church had incorrectly classified as volunteers or voluntary workers people who were entitled to be classified as employees, which could mean it is forced to backpay people if the final statement of findings reflects the draft report.
Former US Church of Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder said the findings could have worldwide repercussions for the church.
“I think a bunch of governments particularly in Europe and the Commonwealth will follow in the footsteps of the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman and begin their own investigations and reviews,” Mr Rinder told ABC Television.
While the draft report reveals how little the church’s staff have been paid, it also shines a light on how much money the church makes.
The church argues it is a religious organisation with no commercial, wholesale or retail interests.
But the Fair Work draft report shows that one of the church’s Australian entities in 2009 held assets worth over $49 million and made over $17.9 million in the same year.
Of that, $11.5 million was made from spiritual counselling and religious training.
The draft report says these courses can cost tens of thousands of dollars: “Documentary evidence obtained includes provision of an ‘advanced program’ to assist a Scientology member ‘progress up the bridge’ at a cost in excess of $65,000.”
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