Former Indian high commissioner in Canberra Navdeep Singh Suri was sentenced to pay thousands of dollars in compensation to a former domestic servant who accused him of unfair working conditions and abuse by Australia’s Federal Court. Thursday saw strong criticism of the ruling from India.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, said that the Australian authorities do not have any locus standi to adjudicate on matters concerning the service staff of its high commission in India, and he urged Canberra to live up to its commitments under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Australia’s Sunday news sites claimed that Federal Court Justice Elizabeth Raper had ordered Mr. Suri to pay Seema Sherghill around $136,000 (plus interest) within 60 days for her allegations that she was coerced to work under unfair conditions.
Mr. Bagchi said in his weekly media conference that the service workers “wilfully deserted” her position the day before she was scheduled to return to India from Australia in May 2016. She was carrying her official passport and an Australian diplomatic visa.
He said that New Delhi has repeatedly requested that Australian authorities locate the missing workers and repatriate them to India for their overall well being and benefit.
Again, the Australian government lacks the locus standi necessary to adjudicate on matters relating to the Indian service staff at the High Commission. He said she ought to return to India if she has any issues.
As if that weren’t enough, the ex parte court judgment worries us. The Australian government is being informed about this issue. In that regard, said he, “we would urge Australia to uphold its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, in particular concerning diplomatic immunities and privileges.”
Sherghill stated before Australia’s Federal Court that she was expected to labor 17 and a half hours per day, seven days a week, according to Australian media sources.
Mr. Bagchi said that on May 25, 2016, the day before she was to return to India on a service tour, the service workers “willfully deserted her post.”
Australian Human Rights Institute head and UNSW Sydney professor Justine Nolan claims that over 25 million people are under forced labor today.
“In this case, the victim was fortunate to be connected to pro bono legal services which could assist her in pursuing a compensation claim, but there are many more victims that cannot seek justice.”
She continued by saying that modern slavery happens in both rich and poor countries and that most victims have little options.
When victims have problems establishing their claims, Ms. Nolan said the policy might be reevaluated.
In circumstances where modern slavery is alleged, the burden of proof should be placed on the employer. Ms. Nolan stated that the plaintiff’s burden of evidence would be shifted from her to the defendant if the employer was required to establish that the event did not occur.