The Department of Foreign Affairs has told diplomats living in Australia their domestic workers must be paid into an Australian bank account following revelations of slavery-like practices in diplomatic residences.
The fact sheet, recently issued to diplomats and consular corps living in Australia, further stipulated that foreign officials could not cancel an employees' visa, nor could they stop them leaving their place of work outside working hours.
In bold, they were told: "It is a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade requirement that the employee’s salary be paid through bank transfer into an Australian bank account".
The tightened rules follow revelations on ABC's Four Corners in February that more than 20 domestic workers had sought help from the Salvation Army's anti-human trafficking arm The Freedom Partnership in about a decade.
National policy and advocacy coordinator Heather Moore this week told the Sunday Canberra Times the figure had steadily increased over time to up to four domestic workers requesting assistance each year. The figure included men and women from Africa, Asia and South America stationed in residences throughout Australia, she said.
"[DFAT is] making some changes but we don’t think they’re going far enough and we don’t think they’re going fast enough," Ms Moore said.
Ms Moore said she understood another new requirement was that only heads of mission could hire workers under the 403 visa program.
She pointed out one case, outlined by Four Corners, alleging a former employee of Pakistani High Commissioner Naela Chohan was verbally abused, worked up to 19 hours a day and slept in a storage space in the basement of Ms Chohan's home. Shahid Mahmood's $100-weekly pay was wired to his family in Pakistan.
Ms Chohan denied the claims and has since left the posting.
Ms Moore said: "We’re concerned that simply limiting it to the head of mission will not necessarily stem the tide of abuse. Neither does that address the sense of isolation that domestic workers experience."
Responding to allegations of exploitation is difficult for Australian authorities, who battle claims of diplomatic immunity.
The Freedom Partnership has continually urged DFAT to connect domestic workers with a "knowledgeable" non-government organisation to ensure diverse pathways out of exploitation.
Currently, DFAT holds annual interviews with domestic workers, which advocates said could take place over the phone.
It is understood the federal government has implemented processes to verify whether the new bank account requirements were being met but DFAT would not comment on rates of compliance.
"The department has long advocated in favour of private domestic workers having their own personal Australian bank accounts," a DFAT spokesperson said.
"In early 2018 DFAT made this a requirement for overseas missions in Australia in order to ensure private domestic workers were being paid in accordance with Australian employment standards."
Timor-Leste ambassador Abel Guterres, dean of the diplomatic corps, was unavailable to comment to the Sunday Canberra Times when contacted on Friday as he was travelling.
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