In a recent ruling, the Federal Court of Australia has directed India’s former high commissioner to Australia to compensate a former domestic worker with thousands of dollars for unpaid wages and unfair working conditions, as reported by ABC News.
Seema Sherghill, who arrived in Australia in April 2015, spent approximately a year working at the residence of then-high commissioner Navdeep Suri Singh in Canberra. The Federal Court revealed that Ms Sherghill was engaged in rigorous work, operating seven days a week and clocking in 17.5 hours per day.
Her responsibilities included house cleaning, meal preparation, garden maintenance, and walking Mr Suri’s dog. Shockingly, she was permitted to leave the premises solely to walk the dog.
Initially, Ms Sherghill received a meagre payment of approximately $7.80 per day. Following her complaint, Mr Suri raised her daily wage to $9. Despite her dedicated service, she was compensated a mere $3,400 for her 13 months of labour.
Ms Sherghill had previously worked for Mr Suri during his tenure as India’s Ambassador to Egypt. However, this experience differed significantly, as she was solely accountable for maintaining an eight-bedroom house.
“I was responsible for doing everything,” Ms Sherghill stated.
Ms Shergill remarked that, when Mr Suri and his wife were absent, her tasks expanded to making large batches of samosas and cleaning the silverware, aside from her regular chores. They would regularly call and monitor my work progress.
According to Ms Sherghill, Mr Suri’s wife was also “very demanding”.
“She often nagged me to work harder, and said to me things such as, I was earning too much money,” she revealed.
Ms Sherghill decided to leave the residence in May 2016, abandoning all her possessions. After her departure, she found herself homeless until she sought help from the Fair Work Ombudsman, who connected her with the Salvation Army.
In a turn of events, Ms Sherghill was granted Australian citizenship in 2021.
Mr. Suri was notably absent from the hearing, but Justice Elizabeth Raper proceeded with the case in his absence.
Justice Raper determined that Mr. Suri had violated four distinct sections of the Fair Work Act.
“[Ms Sherghill’s] employment conditions bore no resemblance to what one would expect under Australian law,” remarked Justice Raper.
“Her passport was taken from her, she worked seven days a week, was never permitted to take leave and was only allowed outside the house for brief periods a day when looking after Mr Suri’s dog.”
Furthermore, Justice Raper ruled that Mr. Suri could not claim foreign state immunity, as Ms. Sherghill did not work directly for the High Commission, nor diplomatic immunity, given that hiring a domestic worker was not an official function of his position.
Justice Raper has mandated that Mr. Suri must compensate Ms. Sherghill with an amount exceeding $136,000, along with accrued interest, and this payment must be made within the next 60 days.