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December 2009

Domestic workers seek justice from South African Ambassador before her departure from Ireland

Image of high floodwaters

Members of the Domestic Workers Action Group (DWAG) on Thursday 26th November gathered in front of the South African Ambassador’s residence in Dalkey where ambassadors and foreign diplomats were amongst the 200 guests invited to her farewell celebration. The group was protesting against the decision of the former Human Rights lawyer, Ambassador Priscilla Jana to invoke diplomatic immunity in a complaint taken against her by domestic worker, Valentyna Khristonsen, employed in the residence between 2006 and 2008.

Ms. Khristonsen, who is represented by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI), claims that her employment rights were violated and lodged formal complaints against Ambassador Jana with the Labour Relations Commission, including breaches of the Unfair Dismissals Act, the Payment of Wages Act, and the Organisation of Working Time Act. The question of jurisdiction has been under consideration by the Rights Commissioner since the hearing on November 4.

"It is utterly shameful that the Ambassador is still hiding behind diplomatic immunity and that she is leaving the country, denying Valentyna her basic right to have her grievance heard," says Anele Jakiel of DWAG. "Foreign diplomats are supposed to be representing their country in the highest regard and we would expect that they respect Irish laws and afford their employees due process. Regardless of the place of employment, all workers should be able to avail of this right, including workers employed in embassies."

Siobhan O’Donoghue director of MRCI says, "We have others cases involving diplomats and domestic workers. Diplomatic immunity was not intended to be used to deny workers their basic right to due process."

"We are urging the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Michael Martin to introduce a protocol in which embassies would agree to waive their right to diplomatic immunity in complaints taken by employees to afford workers their basic rights."

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