UK SC rules Saudi diplomat may face charges for breaching Filipino worker's employment contract

Kaycee Valmonte - Philstar.com
UK SC rules Saudi diplomat may face charges for breaching Filipino worker's employment contract
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MANILA, Philippines — The United Kingdom’s highest court has ruled that a Saudi Arabian diplomat may face charges for breaching a Filipina domestic worker’s contract and for being complicit in a modern slavery case.

The UK Supreme Court in a landmark July 6 ruling said a diplomat’s failure to fairly compensate a domestic worker equates to “commercial activity practised for personal profit." 

Filipino domestic worker Josephine Wong filed a claim against her former employer, Britain-based Saudi diplomat Khalid Basfar, at the UK employment tribunal after she was left unpaid for most of her services while she was subjected to “degrading and offensive treatment” for two years before her escape.

In response, Basfar said her claim should be disregarded as he is covered by diplomatic immunity. 

However, the employment tribunal earlier denied to strike out Wong’s claim, while the Court of Appeal decided that the case may already be brought to the highest court. 

"The majority concludes that, if the facts alleged by Ms. Wong are proved, Mr. Basfar does not have immunity from the civil jurisdiction of the UK courts. However, unless admissions are made, a hearing is required to determine the truth of the allegations," a summary of the ruling read

The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations provides that diplomats and their families are granted protection from facing criminal jurisdiction of the state diplomats are assigned to, but any “commercial activity” may be a subject of a civil jurisdiction.

“On the assumed facts Mr. Basfar gained a substantial financial benefit by deliberately and systematically exploiting Ms Wong’s labour for almost two years, initially for a fraction of her contractual entitlement to wages and latterly for no pay at all,” the ruling read.

“This conduct is accurately described as a commercial activity practised for personal profit.” 

The court also clarified that diplomats hiring domestic workers does not already constitute to a “commercial activity.”

The fact that Wong was hired to work against her will for another’s benefit is the main factor.

“There is a material and qualitative difference between these two activities: employment is a voluntary relationship, entered into freely and governed by the terms of a contract, whereas the essence of modern slavery is that work is extracted by coercing and controlling a victim,” the ruling read.

Wong said she was a victim of human trafficking and was forced to work for the diplomat’s family beginning August 2016 in situations akin to modern slavery. 

She was not given days off, working everyday from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The Filipina was also not allowed to go outside, except for when she takes out the trash.

On top of that, between her arrival in the UK and her May 2018 escape, Wong was only paid a fourth of her contractual pay in July 2017. — with report from Kristine Joy Patag



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