Plights of maids hired by diplomats

Plights of maids hired by diplomats
A group supporting domestic workers' rights demonstrate across the street from the Indian Consulate General December 20, 2013 in New York.

WASHINGTON- For three months, Ms Marichu Baoanan said she worked nearly 18-hour days cooking and cleaning in the New York home of Mr Lauro Baja, when he was the Philippines ambassador to the United Nations.

She said she was forced to eat leftovers, sleep on a sheet in the basement, was unable to leave the house unaccompanied and never given a winter jacket. She was paid US$100 (S$127) a month, just six US cents an hour.

In 2008, some two years after she fled Mr Baja's house, Ms Baoanan, who was 39 at the time, filed a civil lawsuit against her employer, accusing him of 15 counts of human trafficking, forced labour, peonage and slavery.

Mr Baja denied the charges and invoked diplomatic immunity.

Ms Baoanan's case is in the news again as activists in the United States seek to draw attention to the plight of domestic workers serving diplomats in the light of the uproar over Indian Deputy Consul-General Devyani Khobragade's arrest.

Dr Khobragade is accused of paying her Indian nanny far less than the minimum wage of US$9.75 an hour mandated by New York law.

Much of the attention has thus far been focused on the diplomatic fallout and the manner of her arrest. But activists say more needs to be said about the treatment of domestic workers.

Last Friday, dozens of them protested outside the Indian consulates in New York and San Francisco calling for better treatment.

There are no official figures that reveal the extent of the problem, said Ms Leah Obias of Damayan, a New York grassroots organisation fighting for the rights of Filipino workers. In the group's 10-year history, she said it has helped some two dozen workers. Half of them had worked for diplomats.

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