|Sacked ... Arjuna Das was expelled from the Canberra temple after complaining about living conditions and low wages. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen|
Arjuna Das, who has lodged a submission for unfair dismissal with Fair Work Australia, said his crime was criticizing conditions at the Canberra temple, where he claims residents were not permitted to use electric heating and resorted to burning wood in discarded containers to stay warm.
The case has raised questions about how the International Society for Krishna Consciousness uses Religious Worker (subclass 428) visas, a sponsored category for institutions that need access to specific religious skills not readily available in Australia.
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Mr Das, 27, said his fellow devotees in Canberra were afraid to speak out. ''Even my good friends in temple, they are not happy with me at the moment, because they say if you do this the Australian government is going to cancel all our visas,'' he said.
He alleges he was sometimes paid as little as $14 a week while working 12-hour days, and was forced to sign a salary sacrifice agreement last year where $30,000 of his $46,000 wage was taken for expenses such as accommodation. Records show he was paid a total $8284 last financial year.
Mr Das alleges in his submission he was not given adequate food or medical assistance and forced to live in poor conditions.
''I feel like I have no right in this temple but a slave,'' he wrote to the society in September, requesting to move to a temple in Cessnock. ''Please forgive me if I did wrong by sending this email.''
But the following morning, he said he received a phone call from a representative of the society telling him to pack his bags immediately and leave or the police would be called.
Within hours, a one-sentence email from the society's Queensland branch was sent to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to withdraw sponsorship for permanent residency of Mr Das.
The society has declined to answer the Herald's questions about the case as it is before Fair Work Australia.
''It is inappropriate for ISKCON [International Society for Krishna Consciousness] to make any public comment as it may be seen as an interference in the legal process which ISKCON has faith in,'' its representative said.
It has also said Mr Das's claims are denied and that the proceedings will be defended.
Mr Das, now on a bridging visa, is being assisted by the society's former public officer in South Australia, Vivianne Kharel, who is fighting her own unfair dismissal case against the society in the Adelaide Magistrates Court.
Ms Kharel said only $388 tax had been deducted from Mr Das's earnings since he arrived in Australia in 2008. His listed superannuation fund has no record of an account in his name, despite deductions appearing on his payslips, she said.
An immigration spokesman said it was aware of allegations made about the society but would not say whether it was under investigation.
Mr Das's case was a matter for Fair Work Australia, the department said.