Press Centre

Domestic Workers to Protest at South African Embassy

PRESS RELEASE: 4 November 2009

Members of the Domestic Workers Action Group are gathering in front of the South African Embassy in Dublin today to protest the decision of the Embassy and Ambassador Pricilla Jana to invoke diplomatic immunity in an employment rights complaint taken against her by a domestic worker.

The employment rights complaint was 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 being 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.

Formal complaints were due to be heard before a Rights Commissioner earlier today in Dublin, however Ambassador Jana and the South African Embassy are claiming that the Rights Commissioner has no jurisdiction to entertain the complaint, by virtue of the doctrine of sovereign immunity.  The question of jurisdiction is still under consideration by the Rights Commissioner.

Ms. Khristonsen is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group.   The group, established in 2004, is part of the MRCI, 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.

“It is our view that Valentyna deserves the right to a hearing and due process regarding her grievance,” says Ann Guan of the Domestic Workers Action Group. “It is shameful and unfair that the ambassador is claiming diplomatic immunity and denying her this basic right.”

Ms. Guan continues, “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.  We will be calling on Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, TD, to intervene and urge the South African delegation to waive diplomatic immunity so that Valentyna can have the right to a hearing.”

“We commonly come across complaints by domestic workers involving diplomatic employers," says Siobhán O’Donoghue, Director of the MRCI.  “Diplomatic immunity should not be a blank cheque for denying a domestic worker her basic rights.   Ms. Khristonsen had a signed contract.  What is the point of having a contract if she cannot even pursue the rights outlined in it?”

According to Ms. O’Donoghue, “More needs to be done to ensure that ambassadors, foreign diplomats, consular officers, and employees of international organisations understand their obligations as employers here in Ireland, and that the rights of the domestic workers they employ are respected and enforced.”

Details:   Wednesday, 4 November 2009, 1:00 pm, South African Embassy, Alexandra House, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2



Note to editors:

All diplomatic agents of embassies in Ireland, including their spouses and families, are granted diplomatic immunity in accordance with the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Act 1967. This Act incorporates the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961, into Irish law. The convention also provides for this immunity to be waived by the sending State at any time.