Sunday 18 February 2018

Domestic workers awarded €240,000 after earning just €2 an hour for ambassador

Laylanie Loparga and Jennifer Loparga. The domestic workers were awarded €240,000 by Employment Appeals Tribunal against the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates for breaches of employment rights.
Laylanie Loparga and Jennifer Loparga. The domestic workers were awarded €240,000 by Employment Appeals Tribunal against the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates for breaches of employment rights.
Sarah Stack

Sarah Stack

Three Filipina women have been awarded €240,000 by Employment Appeals Tribunal which accepted they worked for as little as €2 an hour for an ambassador.

Jennifer Villaranda, Myra Calderon and Laylanie Laporga won their unfair dismissal claim against UAE Ambassador Khalid Nasser Rashed Lootah and his wife Mehra Metad Alghubaisi.

Ms Villaranda said she was delighted with the outcome.

“The Chairperson of the Tribunal was appalled by the level of exploitation we suffered,” said Ms Villaranda after the ruling.

“We worked for the Ambassador 15 hours a day, seven days a week and we were only paid only €170 per month – less than €2 per hour.

“We were constantly on call, our passports were taken and we never had a day off.”

The women lost a previous Rights Commissioner hearing after the ambassador and his wife invoked diplomatic immunity.

They appealed to the EAT, but neither the ambassador or his wife were represented at the hearing. A spokeswoman for the UAE Embassy in Dublin said a statement might be issued tomorrow.

Describing their working conditions as horrific, Tribunal Chairperson Niamh O'Carroll Kelly delivered an oral ruling and awarded each of the claimants €80,000 each.

She noted that while the ambassador and his wife may have a completely different version, they had not attended the hearing despite being notified twice. She took the claimant’s version as face value.

Ms O'Carroll Kelly accepted all three had worked for the respondent for 15 hours a day, seven days a week for €170 per month, adding that if they had been on the national minimum wage working those hours, they would have earned approximately €47,000 each.

The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), which supported the three women, welcomed the level of the award, which it described as unprecedented.

Virginija Petrauskaite, MRCI Legal Officer, has been working with the three women since 2011.

“This is an extraordinary and unprecedented judgment,” Ms Petrauskaite said.

“It validates the rights of the women subjected to these appalling conditions. We urge the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to ensure the Ambassador actually pays this award, particularly in light of commitments made in the recently-adopted Measures to Protect Domestic Workers in Diplomatic Households.”

Claire McQuillan, of McGuill Solicitors, who represented the three women, told the tribunal that the three women were hired through an agency which has since closed and worked for the ambassador in the UAE, but came to Ireland with the family in April 2011.

“We welcome the judgment and will study it closely when we receive the written decision. This is welcome progress in the law in this area,” she added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it notes the findings of the tribunal.

"While not in a position to comment on the specifics of this case, the Department emphasises that under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, it is the duty of all persons enjoying diplomatic privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the host State, including labour law," said a spokeswoman.

She said the department also works closely with other departments, state agencies, gardai and MRC Ireland in relation to the implementation of the guidelines covering the employment of private domestic employees by diplomats in Ireland, which were introduced by Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan in September.

These guidelines set out clearly expectations regarding payment, employment records, health insurance and social security, she added.

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