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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Foreign diplomat may face probe over slave labour claims

Criminal complaint after allegations that an embassy official trafficked a servant into Ireland to work 17 hours each day

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Published 12/01/2014 | 02:30

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Woman mopping bathroom floor
Woman mopping bathroom floor. (Posed)

A FOREIGN diplomat living in Ireland is facing a garda investigation over slave labour allegations amid claims he forced a private servant to work a 17-hour day for just €1.66 an hour.

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The woman has lodged a complaint with Labour Relations Commission about her treatment, which was only uncovered after she was hospitalised.

A formal criminal complaint is also being prepared for the gardai.

It is the eighth case in recent years where a foreign diplomat living in Ireland has been implicated in human trafficking and domestic slavery.

The man at the centre of the case is the second diplomat from his country against whom a complaint has been made.

As yet gardai have been unable to prosecute any of the alleged offenders. In some cases diplomatic immunity was invoked, while other alleged offenders left the country before they could be questioned.

The woman in this case came to Ireland in 2012 to work in the private residence of a mid-ranking diplomat, doing household chores and looking after his children.

According to the complaint, she was promised a regular wage and regular working hours -- but she soon found herself working 17-hour days, with no time off.

The plight of the woman, who doesn't speak English, only emerged after she was hospitalised last summer. At the time, efforts were made by the diplomat's embassy to repatriate her, but she resisted.

The Department of Foreign Affairs was informed of the case and the woman was subsequently given accommodation in a direct provision hostel, which are generally used to house asylum seekers.

If a formal garda inquiry is opened, she will be able to remain here for its duration.

The diplomat at the centre of the case has remained in Ireland. His embassy did not respond to a request from the Sunday Independent for comment.

Details of the case have emerged as the department finalises new rules that foreign diplomats must abide by when they employ domestic workers.

Measures being considered include a charter compelling diplomats to provide staff with written contracts and to pay wages by electronic transfer.

It is understood a clause was also being considered, which would allow a diplomat's visa to be cancelled if they fail to abide by these conditions.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it was still consulting officials at the Department of Justice and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to "finalise strengthened criteria for employment of private domestic workers".

"That process is nearing completion and will be finalised as early as possible in 2014," she said.

The spokeswoman said the department would assist in any investigation being undertaken into labour exploitation claims. She said it was not possible for Irish authorities to override diplomatic immunity, which can only be waived by the sending state.

The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, which provides support to victims of labour trafficking, said measures to protect employees of diplomats were long overdue.

"Young women are being trafficked to Ireland by diplomatic employees and made to work in exploitative and even abusive conditions," said spokeswoman Grainne O'Toole. "This abuse goes unchallenged as diplomats are hiding behind diplomatic immunity and not held to account for their crimes.

"These workers should be treated in accordance with Irish employment law and standards and norms upheld.

"The Government needs to act and bring in measures to ensure these workers have proper conditions of employment with rights enforced by the National Employment Rights Authority."

The MRCI said it had dealt with over 120 cases of labour trafficking in the past six years.

The cases included people who ended up working in slave-like conditions as domestic staff, in restaurants, circuses and on farms.

Irish Independent

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