Church of Scientology ‘has to conform to labour laws’

The Church of Scientology has been found to be subject to Australian labour laws after an investigation into allegations it paid employees who were members of its clergy as little as $10 a week.

But the religious cult dodged a bullet since, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports,

elements of the draft report by the Fair Work Ombudsman – such as indications that allegations of slavery and human rights abuses would be referred to ”the relevant authority” for further investigation – have been omitted from the final public version. Instead the public version says: ”Some claimed the use of unconscionable tactics by the CoS designed to retain their commitment.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman makes no findings in respect of those allegations, but advises that if workers providing services to religious or any other organisation consider that they are being subjected to intimidation or other illegal pressure to continue to provide their labour, they should contact police.”

The report also gives the first real insight into the finances of the Australian arm of the controversial church, founded by the American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1952.

It reveals that at the end of 2009 the Church of Scientology, Australia, Inc, had a surplus in funds of $21,753,440 and total assets of $56,923,870. The church, which remains tax exempt after a 1983 High Court ruling that it was a religion, earned $11,670,384 in 2009 from the sale of ”spiritual counselling and religious training” and a further $3,469,337 from ”sales of religious books and artefacts”.

That year it spent $2,248,357 on salaries and allowances.

The Ombudsman dismissed submissions from the church that the Fair Work Act did not apply because it ”is a religious entity €¦ and there isn’t any worker relationship or employer relationship”.

The Ombudsman’s statement said documents and policies examined by Fair Work inspectors ”plainly contradicted” this assertion, though it acknowledged that some of the labour provided by some of the complainants was voluntary.

The report was based on the evidence given by eight complainants who remain anonymous, and sparked by allegations raised in the Senate by Nick Xenophon, who in 2009 tabled a series of documents outlining claims of abuse by the church on its members, including forced abortion, forced labour, house arrest and using information gathered in counselling sessions to control its members’ behaviour. The church continues to deny those allegations.

The investigation found allegations made by six of the complainants fell outside the six-year statute of limitations. But the Ombudsman states investigations are continuing into allegations raised by one other, while more people have come forward since the investigation began.

One witness told the Ombudsman he joined the church at the age of 14, signing the standard billion-year contract to join the Sea Organisation, as the church’s clergy is known.

The AAP says

The ombudsman called on the church to conduct a comprehensive audit to ensure all parts of the organisation complied with the Fair Work Act and to redress any cases where workers had been been underpaid.

“It would be prudent for the Church of Scientology to proactively undertake this self-audit process at the earliest opportunity,” the report said.

The church was directed to hire an external consultant to undertake an audit into whether its employees were underpaid and to rectify any shortfalls. […]

The investigation found the Church of Scientology was “a bureaucratised organisation” which “appeared to have imported practices and procedures into Australia with little thought to workplace relations laws”.

However, the church said it had been vindicated by the report.

“Staff of Scientology churches signed agreements to work as volunteers and are doing so freely, wishing to help their church and the wider community,” its Australian president Vicki Dunstan said.

Asked if the church intended to hire an external consultant to review its workplace practices, a spokesman referred AAP to the ombudsman’s full report.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation says

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has told Lateline he’s disappointed with a Fair Work Ombudsman’s final report into the Church of Scientology.

He believes the draft report has been watered down.

The Church of Scientology has described the report as a “terrific outcome”, but the Church hasn’t escaped criticism.

The Fair Work Ombudsman has called on the Church of Scientology to hire an independent consultant to review workplace practices to ensure they comply with the award system and the Fair Work Act.

The Scientology cult still faces a class-action lawsuit over claims it underpaid former workers.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday September 17, 2011.
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