Press Centre

Domestic Worker Denied Right to a Hearing

PRESS RELEASE: 18 December 2009

Rights Commissioner upholds South African Ambassador’s claim of dip diplomatic immunity

In a written judgement received today by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, the Rights Commissioner has decided that he has no jurisdiction to hear the complaints brought by domestic worker, Ms. Valentyna Khristonsen, against her former employer, South African Ambassador Priscilla Jana, based on the Ambassador’s claim of diplomatic immunity on 4 November last.

The employment rights complaints were brought by Ms. Valentyna Khristonsen, a Ukrainian national, who was employed between February 2006 and August 2008 as a domestic worker in the private residence of Ambassador Jana in Dublin.  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, a former human rights lawyer, with the Labour Relations Commission, including breaches of the Unfair Dismissals Act, the Payment of Wages Act, and the Organisation of Working Time Act.

“It is shameful and unfair that the South African Embassy and the Ambassador are still claiming diplomatic immunity,” says Anele Jakiel of the Domestic Workers Action Group. “Valentyna deserves the right to have her grievance heard and we will be continuing our protests against the embassy until justice is done.”

“This matter is not over and we will be appealing this decision to the Employment Appeals Tribunal and to the Labour Court,” says Pat O’Donoghue, MRCI’s Senior Legal Advisor.  “This case clearly demonstrates the need to change the current system, in which diplomats and embassies in Ireland can violate the employment rights of their workers without any fear of prosecution when they claim immunity.    Without the ability to pursue their rights, workers are left extremely vulnerable to exploitation.”

Ms. Jakiel continues, “Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, TD, now needs to get involved and urge the South African Embassy to waive their immunity claim so that Valentyna can have her right to a hearing.   We also call on the Minister to introduce policy changes that will prohibit diplomats in Ireland from claiming immunity in cases such as these.”

Ends

Note:

MRCI’s Domestic Workers Action Group was established in 2004, and is currently made up of over 200 women fighting for the rights, dignity and recognition of all workers employed in the private home in Ireland. For more information go to www.mrci.ie