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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Department knew of '€1.66 an hour' pay -- diplomat accused of using slave labour

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Published 15/01/2014 | 02:30

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13/9/2012  NO REPRODUCTION FEE.
Strokestown Park International Famine Conference, The Irish National Famine Museum, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon.
Pictured at the conference; Senator Terry Leyden, Councillor Tom Crosby , Mayor of Roscommon and Ms Thobeka Diamini, Councellor Political, South African Embassy .
Photo Brian Farrell
Ms Thobeka Diamini.

A FOREIGN diplomat who is the subject of a slave labour complaint has claimed the Department of Foreign Affairs "did not raise any concerns" about the level of wages she paid to a private servant.

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Thobeka Dlamini, charge d'affaires at the South African Embassy in Dublin, is facing claims she paid the servant just €1.66 an hour and forced her to work 17-hour days.

She has refused to clarify exactly how much she paid the former employee and indicated she would invoke diplomatic immunity if investigated.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, she said she supplied the department with a copy of the servant's contract, detailing her hours of work and the salary that was to be paid.

CONCERNS

At no stage did department officials raise any concerns that the salary may be below the minimum wage and they approved the servant's visa, she said.

Her comments came after the former employee lodged a complaint with the Labour Relations Commission.

The case has raised serious questions about the department's monitoring of the treatment of domestic staff working for foreign diplomats in Ireland.

A spokeswoman for the department said last night it could find no record of the contract being submitted to it. She added that, in any event, it did "not have a role in sanctioning the work contracts of employees of diplomats based in Ireland".

The former servant filed the complaint after she was hospitalised last summer, a year after arriving in Ireland.

She came to Dublin with Mrs Dlamini and her family when they moved from Pretoria in 2012. The woman looked after the diplomat's three children and worked as her housekeeper.

She was employed directly by Mrs Dlamini and was not working for the South African Embassy.

Mrs Dlamini firmly denied the servant had been forced to work the hours complained of.

She refused to clarify the amount paid to her former employee, but defended the wage packet, saying it was "more than three times" greater than the woman had earned in her native South Africa.

"All the paperwork, the contract we signed in South Africa, I sent to Foreign Affairs," she said.

"They came back and said the only thing that was missing on the contract was the fact that I take care of her medical insurance. I had to write another letter to Foreign Affairs to say it was fine and I would do that."

The diplomat said she was surprised when she learnt a complaint had been made.

"That lady, she never once complained to us that she was not happy about her working conditions," she said. "Actually, she was even giving testimonies at church to say she was very happy with where she was working."

Mrs Dlamini said she had paid for the servant to receive tuition in English, something which was not required under the terms of her contract.

She said the worker became ill after moving here. Her contract was terminated after a year and it was suggested she return to South Africa to receive treatment.

The diplomat said she offered to travel with the woman, but she had refused to go.

When asked if she would co-operate with the rights commissioner case, she responded: "I am a diplomat here, my brother. If there is anything that needs to be defended, it goes through Foreign Affairs."

DOMESTIC

The case is the eighth in recent years where domestic slavery claims have been made against a foreign diplomat living here.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it was working to improve oversight of the employment of domestic staff by diplomats in consultation with the Department of Justice and the Department of Jobs.

Irish Independent

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