Iraqi diplomat ‘morally repugnant’
AN IRAQI diplomat who docked $250 from the wages of her live-in Filipino nanny for a bottle of Sunsilk shampoo has been ordered to pay $20,000 over the "morally repugnant" treatment.
Juliet Buenaobra was brought to Australia in January 2015 on a 403 temporary work visa by Republic of Iraq Consul-General Anwar Alesi, then First Secretary, to perform domestic work at her home.
Ms Buenaobra was promised monthly wages of $1750 but was paid as little as $800, typically in cash. Her contract included a number of monthly "deductions", including "board and lodging" of $800 - despite not having a private bedroom - "incidentals allowance" of $250, and $125 for "full medical insurance" that was never provided.
She was sacked in November 2017 after raising her pay and conditions with Ms Alesi's husband, Ammar Salman. She had been given a domestic worker checklist on a trip to the DFAT offices and requested her wages be paid into her bank account.
"You can deposit yourself," Mr Salman said, according to Ms Buenaobra. "I would like proof that the amount came from you and Madam," she said. Mr Salman allegedly replied, "No, I have a problem with the bank."
An audio recording of the ensuing discussion tendered to the Fair Work Commission "makes for confronting and disturbing listening", according to Commissioner Donna McKenna, with Ms Buenaobra "met with intimidation, shouting" and an attempt to get her "to sign an agreement concerning further deductions from her wages".
A few days later, $1750 was deposited into her bank account and she was presented with a dismissal letter. "This notice to inform you that because of your miss conduct [sic] with my family, I decide to terminate your employment with me immediately," the letter said.
Despite having nowhere else to go and unable to work for another employer on her 403 visa, Ms Buenaobra left the house the following day "since they locked the door and I don't know what to do".
She was taken in by the family of a friend whom she met at her Catholic Church who "provided me with food and a place to live for free, out of the kindness of their hearts".
The following week, the Consulate-General of the Republic of Iraq wrote to DFAT attempting to have Ms Buenaobra's visa cancelled, saying she "left to unknown place and we lost the communication with her".
Ms Buenaobra remained in Australia in an attempt to recover her unpaid wages through the Fair Work Commission, which on Monday ordered Ms Alesi to pay the maximum possible penalty of 26 weeks' wages, calculated as $20,000.
"The dismissal was harsh and unjust and unreasonable," Ms McKenna said. "I consider the circumstances of the dismissal of the applicant were also morally repugnant."
Ms McKenna said the employment contract was "plainly in disconformity with Australian employment laws" and included a number of unlawful "deductions".
"Hand-in-hand with that unfair dismissal, the respondent then moved promptly to try to ensure her visa was cancelled with the likely aim of ensuring the applicant also would have to leave Australia or be deported before any claim or claims might be initiated," she said.
Ms Alesi attempted to claim diplomatic immunity from the proceedings under the Consular Privileges and Immunities Act 1972. Ms McKenna disagreed, finding domestic work performed in a private home "was not done on behalf of the Republic of Iraq" and so there was "no immunity to be claimed".
Ms Alesi also sought a confidentiality order on the basis that she "held concern about her position, and also held concern that the relationship between the Iraqi Government and Australian Government is 'very delicate'" and that if the evidence became public it "may affect the relationship between the two countries".
That too was struck out. Ms McKenna said she was "not satisfied" a confidentiality order was appropriate, and that "indeed … the evidence as to what occurred between this diplomat and the foreign domestic worker" should be made public.
"It is difficult to understand why diplomatic personnel should be allowed to have access to visa arrangements which facilitate bringing into Australia persons from developing countries, such as the Philippines, to be used as, in effect, cheap domestic labour in their private residences," she said.