Monday 26 September 2016

Embassy raises diplomatic immunity in 'slave labour' row

Published 15/07/2015 | 02:30

Thobeka Dlamini: refused to clarify payments to worker
Thobeka Dlamini: refused to clarify payments to worker

The South African Embassy plans to rely on diplomatic immunity when it faces an employment appeals hearing over 'slave labour' claims involving a former diplomat.

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The embassy has been named as a co-defendant in a case being taken by Senelisiwe Buthelezi, who worked as a housekeeper in the home of its former charges d'affaires, Thobeka Dlamini.

Ms Dlamini departed Ireland last year following allegations she paid the domestic worker the equivalent of €1.66 per hour and required her to work 17-hour days in her Dublin home.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal is to begin hearing details of the case tomorrow.

However, a spokesman for the embassy said it did not know if Ms Dlamini, who disputes the claims, would attend.

For its part, the embassy said it would send legal representation to the hearing, but would argue that it did not have a case to answer.

"We are consulting lawyers about that to represent the embassy," said the embassy's counsellor political, Willie Van Der Westhuizen.

"In this case the embassy was not the employer of the claimant. Ms Dlamini was the employer. That was a private arrangement between Ms Dlamini and Ms Buthelezi.

"Then there is also the point of diplomatic immunity."

Ms Buthelezi, who is being supported in her case by the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, came to Dublin with Mrs Dlamini and her family in 2012. She looked after the diplomat's three children and worked as her housekeeper.

When the 'slave labour' claims were revealed by the Irish Independent last year, Ms Dlamini denied she had forced anyone to work the hours complained of.

However, she refused to clarify exactly how much had been paid to the domestic worker, only stating it was "more than three times" what she had earned in her native South Africa.

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

The case is one of a number in recent years which led to new rules to prevent the abuse of domestic staff by diplomats.

Under the rules diplomats have to agree to abide by Irish employment law, including the minimum wage.

Irish Independent

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