Wednesday 13 December 2017

South African diplomat in ‘slavery’ row 
departs Ireland

South African charge d’affaires is given new post after we expose €1.66-an-hour wage allegations

Thobeka Dlamini has been assigned to a new post. Photo Brian Farrell
Thobeka Dlamini has been assigned to a new post. Photo Brian Farrell
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

A FOREIGN diplomat accused of paying "slave labour" wages of just €1.66-an-hour to a domestic servant has left the country, avoiding the prospect of a criminal investigation.

South African authorities have confirmed its former charge d'affaires in Ireland, Thobeka Dlamini, has been posted to another diplomatic mission.

The move came after a former employee in her Dublin home took a Labour Relations Commission (LRC) case against her, alleging extremely low levels of pay and being forced to work 17 hour days.

When details of the case were revealed by the Sunday Independent earlier this year, Ms Dlamini claimed she had shown officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs a copy of the work contract for the servant and that they "did not raise any concerns".

However, it has now emerged she recanted this claim when challenged by officials from the department.

A spokesperson for the department told the Sunday Independent: "We can confirm that prior to her departure, the diplomat in question acknowledged the contracts had not been submitted to the department,"

Ms Dlamini's exit from the South African Embassy in Dublin came ahead of the traditional rotation of diplomatic staff, which normally occurs in August and September.

However, officials have insisted she was not recalled due to the controversy, which has caused considerable embarrassment for South Africa among the international community in Dublin.

Clayson Monyela, spokesman for South Africa's Department of International Relations, said: "She was not recalled. She has been moved to another mission."

He refused to say where the diplomat had been moved to.

"Why would that be any of your business?" Mr Monyela asked.

He also described the controversy as "a personal matter, a dispute between her and an employee" and said the South African government would not be commenting on it.

"As it is a legal issue, I can't discuss it. Let's allow the process to unfold. We will see how the matter is concluded," he said.

Despite Ms Dlamini's departure, it is expected the LRC rights commissioner case will proceed in her absence.

The diplomat had previously indicated she would not cooperate with the case, citing diplomatic immunity.

The former servant filed the complaint after she was hospitalised last summer.

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

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

Ms Dlamini firmly denied the servant had been forced to work the hours complained of. She would not confirm the wages paid, but insisted they were greater than the servant had earned in her native South Africa.

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

None of the cases have resulted in a prosecution. In some cases diplomatic immunity was invoked, while in others the diplomat left the country before they could be questioned by gardai.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is currently finalising new guidelines which foreign diplomats will have to abide by when they employ domestic workers in Ireland. It hopes to have these in place by September.

The measures are expected to include a charter committing diplomats to provide staff with written contracts and to pay wages electronically.

The Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland, which has been lobbying for the measures to be introduced, said they were long overdue.

Its spokeswoman, Grainne O'Toole, said: "We were promised the measures back in May, and before then in January, but nothing has been done.

"We are extremely disappointed the department hasn't expedited it yet. There are measures sitting there which could prevent breaches of domestic workers' employment rights and potential human trafficking. The department has been dragging its heels, which is extremely disappointing to say the least."

Sunday Independent

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