Woman kept as slave gets record payout

An elderly Tamil woman kept as a slave by a Melbourne family will receive what is believed to be the “largest amount ever recovered by a victim of slavery in Australia”.

Suspicions about the woman’s condition, who cannot be named, first arose in July 2015 after paramedics found her in a “dangerous state of health”.

She was found in a pool of her own urine and weighing just 40 kilograms with serious untreated illnesses.

Husband and wife duo, Kumuthini and Kandasamy Kannan, were jailed in 2021 after a jury found them guilty of possessing a slave and exercising power over a slave.

The woman had lived an impoverished life in India before agreeing to come over to Australia in 2007 and work as a housekeeper at the Kannans’ Glen Waverley home for $4 per day.

Before the Victorian Supreme Court, the woman, now aged 69, gave evidence that she was subjected to serious assaults and was required to endure horrific living conditions.

This included evidence that she had been kept as a prisoner in the Kannans’ house, had been beaten with sticks and frozen chicken and scalded with boiling water.

Last week David Hillard, a partner at law firm Clayton Utz, announced Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus had agreed to order the woman be paid what she should have earnt out of assets seized from the Kannan family.

“The $485,411 received this week genuinely is a life-changing outcome,” he said.

“We think it is the largest amount ever recovered by a victim of slavery in Australia.”

The woman, who has lived in an aged care home since 2015 with lifelong health problems, can now return to family in India, Mr Hillard said.

“Slavery did not end in the 19th century … This is happening right now, in our community, under our noses,” he said.

“(This) case shows that there are avenues under Australian law to obtain justice for victims of labour trafficking and slavery.”

Kumuthini and Kandasamy Kannan were sentenced to eight and six years’ prison respectively.

In March this year, an attempt to overturn the convictions was thrown out of the Court of Appeal as a panel of three judges found that despite the woman lying at points in her testimony, there was sufficient proof the Kannans were guilty.

Kumuthini Kannan had her jail time extended by 12 months in July after admitting she attempted to pervert the course of justice.

She called the victim in February 2020 making “persistent, sustained and repetitive efforts” to convince her victim to not give evidence at trial.

“Tell the judge you had a mental illness,” she said in the call.

“Do what I say. Trust me. Don’t repeat what you said earlier. The police and the lawyers are only in it to make a name for themselves.”

Originally published as Kumuthini and Kandasamy Kannan: Woman kept as slave in Melbourne for eight years to receive record payout

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