The most recent Four Corners’ episode Behind Closed Doors has revealed that, behind the doors of diplomatic embassies domestic staff are trapped in slave-like working conditions. This is extremely concerning given that these places are isolated and hidden from plain sight.
Vulnerable and helpless embassy workers
Before coming to Australia these workers agree to enter into employment contracts that stipulate a given wage and working conditions. In reality these contracts are shams and are only written up to meet visa requirements. The Four Corners’ investigation has found that when these domestic workers arrive in their diplomatic residence in Australia, they are in fact paid a very low wage, forced to work around the clock, and have terrible living conditions.
These embassy workers are vulnerable and helpless as their employer is often their home country’s most powerful representative in Australia. They speak minimal English and often have their passports taken away from them so they are essentially trapped and cannot escape from these human rights abuses.
Diplomatic immunity prevents embassy workers from obtaining recourse
The biggest difficulty they face is that foreign diplomats have diplomatic immunity meaning that authorities cannot enter their premises, and they cannot be brought before Australian courts. This prevents victims from taking legal recourse against those who have mistreated them.
With the courts unavailable to assist, we urge the federal Government to take more proactive measures in protecting embassy workers. It is unacceptable that these slave-like conditions have been overlooked, particularly, since DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) has signed off on their employment contracts. Whilst this exploitation has come to the attention of the government previously, it is clear that measures that have been introduced have been insufficient in addressing the issue. Of course, this concern is not unique to Australia and is something that the international legal community has been attempting to tackle. Perhaps it is a matter that can only be addressed through diplomacy where exceptions to diplomatic immunity are introduced.
We expect there to be more public attention to the topic following the Four Corners investigation, and hope that the government responds quickly.