Australian federal court ordered India’s former high commissioner to Canberra Navdeep Singh Suri to pay A$136,000 to a former staff member employed at the official residence for not paying her as per Australia’s 2009 Fair Work Act.
The Wire had reported earlier on the implications of the judgment on diplomatic privileges and immunities, since the complainant Seema Shergill had been in Australia with an official passport with a diplomatic visa during the period of the dispute.
In the first response from India, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that New Delhi “reject[s] any locus standi of Australian authorities to adjudicate on matters concerning such India-based Service Staff of the High Commission”.
Stating that India was “taking up the matter” with Australia, Bagchi urged Canberra “to uphold its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, particularly in relation to diplomatic immunities and privileges”.
Seema Shergill had travelled with Suri as India-based service staff in 2015. A year later, she left the official residence, known as India House, without information.
Bagchi claimed that Shergill had “willfully deserted her post in May 2016, a day before her scheduled return to India”.
“Since then, we have repeatedly requested Australian authorities to locate and repatriate her to India. We have learnt that she has made allegations against the then High Commissioner, and an ex-parte judgment has now been issued by an Australian court,” he noted.
Pointing out that she was an India-based service staff at the diplomatic mission, the MEA spokesperson asserted that any grievance had to be redressed only in India.
“Her conduct and false representations give rise to suspicions that all this has been motivated by her desire to permanently stay in Australia, and in which she seems to have succeeded. We are also concerned by the ex-parte court judgment,” he said.
According to sources, Shergill declined to sign a compulsory undertaking in May 2016 committing to return to India after completing a three-year tenure – a provision introduced in response to the Khobragade affair.
Sources had pointed out that diplomats and staff receive salaries according to Indian scales.
Additionally, there were concerns that the ruling might prompt service staff in Indian missions abroad to pursue compensation under local laws and potentially persuade them to use this as a path towards citizenship.
Source : Wire