The Salvation Army Freedom Partnership says exploited domestic workers hired by foreign diplomats in Australia face “unparalleled barriers” to escaping abuse and finding help.
The organization says it assists, on average, three domestic workers enslaved in foreign embassies in Canberra every year.
In one case, a woman was recruited to work for a foreign diplomat and given a written contract that promised $2,150 per month for 40 hours work per week. Yet when she arrived in Australia, things took a dramatic turn for the worse as her employer seized her passport, forced her to work seven days a week, and barred from leaving the house.
The diplomat told her she was being watched by cameras and threatened that her family back home would be in danger if she disobeyed. “I’m not allowed to talk, I’m not allowed to go out, even throwing out the rubbish,” she said.
As The Guardian reports, pressing charges against these abusive employers is challenging because they have diplomatic immunity:
The unique circumstances of diplomatic missions can place workers in highly vulnerable positions, while making it difficult for them to seek outside help.
Diplomatic immunity complicates investigations by law enforcement, and the isolation and precarious visa situation of workers deters them from making complaints.
Heather Moore, Freedom Partnership’s national policy coordinator, said there is currently no safe, direct avenue for domestic workers to report abuse or mistreatment to outside services.
Moore said it generally required “the stars to align” for a domestic worker to connect with a support service.
Moore further explained that the main options for abused domestic workers is to either lodge a complaint against their employer — which brings obvious problems — or go to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). But many say they can’t trust DFAT to help them.
“Many of these workers, if not all of them, are coming from life circumstances where people with money, people in government, people in positions of authority work together against people like them. If DFAT is the only place for them to go assistance, many of them will not do that, because they will not see DFAT as being independent from their employer,” she said.
Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, said that the government takes these allegations very seriously, adding that “The Australian government has strict procedures and checks to ensure foreign diplomats comply with Australian laws and regulations when they bring privately employed staff to work in their households.”