A Saudi diplomat who paid domestic worker just 63 pence an hour in London cannot claim diplomatic immunity because his treatment of her amounts to slavery and trafficking, an employment tribunal has ruled.
JW, a Filipino, claims she had to eat their leftovers and even had to wear a buzzer round her neck so she could be ‘on call’ to undertake work 24 hours a day.
The preliminary hearing at Central London Employment Tribunals was told she had to work from 7am to about 1130pm each day, with no time off.
For six months work she was paid 9,000 riyals in cash, equivalent to £1,906, meaning she was working for just 63p an hour.
To obtain a working visa for her, Khalid Basfar, a first secretary at the Royal Embassy in Mayfair, central London, had promised her the minimum wage and a day off every week.
JW said she was regularly verbally abused by the family, was not able to leave the diplomat’s house and her wages were withheld.
She was allowed to call her family twice a year – using Mr Basfar’s mobile phone.
Mr Basfar asked for the case to be thrown out on the grounds he was entitled to diplomatic immunity. But that was dismissed by Employment Judge Jill Brown.
Outlining JW’s case, which she emphasised had not been proved, she said: “The claimant is a victim of trafficking, who was exploited by the respondent and his family.
“She has been recognised by the Home Office as a potential victim of trafficking on the basis of her experience with the respondent.”
The judge added: “The claimant worked from 7am to around 11.30 pm each day, with no days off or rest breaks.
“When the respondent’s family were at home, the claimant was only permitted to eat their leftover food.
“If the respondent’s family were out, the Claimant was able to cook a meal for herself.
“She was made to wear a door bell day and night, so that she could be summoned 24 hours a day.
“The claimant was shouted at incessantly by the respondent’s family and called offensive names regularly.
“She was not allowed to leave the house apart from to take out rubbish into the driveway.
“She was only permitted to call her family twice a year, using the respondent’s mobile telephone.”
The landmark case could pave the way for others to claim damages.
JW is making a host of claims under employment and wages regulations, including wrongful dismissal.
Mr Basfar is a current member of the diplomatic staff of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the London hearing was told.
JW had been employed by his household in Saudi Arabia from November 2015.
She was brought to the UK the following August on a visa as a private servant in his official diplomatic residence.
She was issued with an Overseas Domestic Workers visa as a private servant in a diplomatic household by the UK Border Agency and remains lawfully present in the UK.
To obtain the visa, Mr Basfar had to agree that she would work eight hours a day, 50 hours per week, with 16 hours free time each day and one day off a week and a month’s annual leave.
She was to be provided with sleeping accommodation and paid the National Minimum Wage.
But after arriving in the UK, JW was not given any wages until almost a year later.
In July 2017 she travelled with Mr Basfar and his wife to Jeddah on their holiday. During this trip, she was paid for six months’ work in the sum of 9,000 Saudi Riyals, in cash. She has not been paid any money since.
Both parties agreed the question for the tribunal was if JW’s employment as a domestic servant – in assumed circumstances of modern slavery – was a commercial activity outside Mr Basfar’s official functions.
Diplomats are normally protected from both criminal charges and civil cases in the countries where they are posted under the rules of an international treaty.
But in a written ruling, Judge Brown said it did not apply in such cases involving alleged slavery.
She said: “I conclude a claim instituted against a foreign diplomat by his domestic servant in relation to work in his home in assumed conditions of human trafficking and modern slavery relates to ‘commercial activity exercised outside his official functions’.
“It comes within the exception to diplomatic immunity. Accordingly, the respondent employer does not have diplomatic immunity and the case against him is not struck out.”
JW’s solicitor, Nusrat Uddin said: “We are extremely pleased with the judgement which has far reaching implications for victims of trafficking and modern slavery who are ill-treated by their diplomat employers.
“These claims ensure that victims are able to assert their rights in the face of such exploitation.
“We hope that this acts as a deterrent against abuse from such employers going forward.”
Last week an employment tribunal awarded a former driver at the Qatari Embassy nearly £190,000 after being pushed to the ground and called a ‘black dog’ and ‘donkey’.
The diplomat, Abudullah Ali Al-Ansari, walked out of proceedings saying it was beneath the dignity of Qatar to answer the charges.
The claimant, Somali-born Mahamoud Ahmed had sued the Embassy rather than a specific person, following a European ruling that allowed embassies to be sued.
A hearing will now go ahead later this year to test allegations the woman was held as a domestic slave.