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Filipino workers accuse Pakistani diplomats of exploitation 

Domestic work is among the biggest sources of employment in Pakistan's informal economy. Keystone / Arshad Arbab

Six Filipino employees say they have been working for Pakistani diplomats in Geneva for more than 20 years without pay.

This content was published on June 12, 2021 - 10:45
swissinfo.ch with Keystone-SDA/ds, ug

The Pakistani authorities have strongly rejected the allegations.

The employees have filed a complaint with the Geneva Public Prosecutor's Office after struggling to raise the issue with local authorities.

“They left the Philippines because the Pakistani mission to the UN promised them a decent life in Geneva, with a salary, a roof over their heads and payment of social insurance,” Mirella Falco, head of the SIT workers union, told journalists in Geneva on Thursday.  

On arrival, the reality was quite different, Falco said. They had to accept to work more than ten hours a week without pay in exchange for a legitimation card (a special card that diplomats give to their employees and that is issued by the Swiss mission).  

To earn enough money to survive, they had to find work with other employers.

Silenced 

“For decades, these domestic workers have been silenced by their fear of losing their residence status. If they are dismissed, they have two months to find another diplomatic employer. If not, they have no choice but to leave or go underground," she explained. 

Some became ill as the coronavirus pandemic only aggravated their circumstances. They decided to come out of the shadows and testify openly on the RTS programme Mise au Point, taking the risk of confronting the diplomatic world and its privileges and not finding a job. 

“It’s really very difficult for me to have been fired. I worked very hard for half my life for the Pakistani mission. They know that,” one of them testified. 

Serious offences 

Through SIT, the employees have appealed to Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter and Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis. In their letter, they denounced the abuses they had suffered and asked Switzerland to protect them. The union is urging the authorities to take measures to end these practices, notably by strengthening the rules governing working conditions and residence permits in the diplomatic world. 

“These offences are extremely serious,” said lawyer Céline Moreau, who is defending two of the women and hopes that investigations will be conducted in response to the complaints. “They should not be underestimated: there is a suspicion of coercion, usury and even human trafficking.” 

She emphasised the role of whistleblower played by these women and criticised cantonal authorities for ignoring the issue. “They are not doing this for themselves, but for others,” Moreau said.  

Other women were afraid to speak out, confirmed a representative of the Swiss Nanny Association, who slammed the Swiss mission for its lax controls. 

Categorical rejection

The Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations in Geneva has dismissed the allegations as "malicious" and "unsubstantiated".

"The insinuations of 'exploitation' and 'no salary' to domestic household employees in exchange for legitimation cars have no factual basis," the mission said in a statement to the media.

The Pakistani mission said it remains committed to complying with Swiss rules and regulations. It has offered full cooperation to the Swiss authorities.

The mission added that it reserved the right to take libel action against disinformation.   

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that the complaint was filed with the Attorney General of Switzerland. It was actually filed with the Geneva Public Prosecutor's Office.

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