Department of Migrant Workers

DMW hails UK court ruling vs diplomatic immunity in modern slavery cases

Michelle Abad

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DMW hails UK court ruling vs diplomatic immunity in modern slavery cases

SUPREME COURT. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in London at twilight in London on July 3, 2016.

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(1st UPDATE) The UK Supreme Court rules in favor of a Filipina domestic worker who sued her Saudi diplomat employer over abusive working conditions. The Philippines' Department of Migrant Workers hopes similar rulings would be made in other OFW host countries.

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) on Friday, July 8, hailed the recent decision of the United Kingdom Supreme Court that diplomats cannot claim immunity in modern slavery cases.

On Wednesday, July 6, the UK Supreme Court ruled that diplomats who abuse their staff cannot invoke diplomatic immunity in complaints seeking compensation. Filipina domestic worker Josephine Wong won her suit against her employer Saudi diplomat Khalid Basfar in 2018 for making her work in abusive conditions in London.

“This diplomatic immunity can never be used as a sanctuary against inhumane treatment, abuse, and exploitation – key facets of modern-day slavery,” the DMW said.

“This decision, the first of its kind the world over, opens the floodgates for workers, abused by their employers who are members of the diplomatic community, to seek recompense and refuge under the law,” the department added.

The DMW said it hopes that similar rulings are made in more countries.

Wong’s lawyers said she endured long work hours of 7 am to 11:30 pm daily, had no days off or rest breaks, and that she was confined to her employers’ residence. Wong claimed she was verbally abused, fed only leftover food, and was made to wear a doorbell so she can be summoned any time, according to a BBC report.

According to the DMW, Wong was brought to the UK in 2016 when Basfar was posted there, and was reportedly not paid her full salary during her first seven months.

When she escaped in 2018, Wong filed her claim against Basfar. Basfar argued that Wong’s claim was baseless, since he enjoyed immunity as a Saudi diplomat.

But the UK Supreme Court ultimately dismissed Basfar’s argument, ruling that his exploitation of Wong “amounted to a commercial activity not covered under the stipulations set by the Vienna Convention providing immunity for members of a country’s diplomatic service,” the DMW said.

The DMW said that Wong has since found fair employment in the UK since she escaped her situation with Basfar.

The question on immunity for abusive diplomats has surfaced in previous cases. In October 2020, news broke out that former Philippine ambassador to Brazil Marichu Mauro was recalled to Manila for physically abusing her household staff. She could not be tried in Brazil because of her diplomatic immunity.

In March 2021, then-president Rodrigo Duterte announced that he dismissed Mauro. – Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers overseas Filipinos, the rights of women and children, and local governments.