Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Four Filipinas sue Pakistani diplomat employers in Switzerland for slavery

On the morning of her court hearing, Virginia woke up with cold clammy hands and feet, gasping for air. She was having another panic attack. “Never in my life did I imagine that I would find myself in a courtroom facing lawyers in a foreign country,” the 46-year-old Filipina told Al Jazeera. Virginia filed a case against her diplomat employers at the Pakistan Mission in Geneva, Switzerland, alleging she had been unpaid for more than 20 years. The contract, which she signed in the Philippines in 1999, indicated a monthly salary of 1,200 Swiss francs ($1,329) for a 40-hour week, along with board and lodging as well as health insurance. Virginia, then a 22-year-old mother of two, found out after arriving in Geneva that she was expected to work for the Pakistan Mission three times a week without a salary. It would be up to her to find other jobs to have enough money to live on. The sponsorship of her visa demanded her compliance and her silence. Virginia and three other Filipina domestic workers are suing the Pakistan Mission to the United Nations in Switzerland, claiming compensation for unpaid wages and other damages. Evidence and testimony gathered from 2021 supported the allegations of violations of Swiss labour law, threats, coercion, exploitation and human trafficking. The Swiss Mission, which oversees issuing visa permits to domestic workers in diplomatic households and monitors compliance with employee contracts, confirmed that the case was currently being investigated. “Switzerland does not tolerate any abuse of the working conditions of private household employees in the diplomatic context,” said Paola Ceresetti, spokesperson for the Swiss Mission. In an email, the Pakistani Mission in Geneva told Al Jazeera they do not comment on cases pending resolution, but said: “The Mission takes its obligations under the applicable international law and local regulations very seriously.” (https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2023/5/24/four-filipinas-sue-diplomat-employers-in-switzerland-for-slavery) The Swiss Mission has suspended issuing visas for domestic workers employed under the Pakistan Mission until the dispute is settled.

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