Bid to avoid recurrence of Devyani episode

The Finance Ministry is considering a proposal from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) according to which the government will hire on contract domestic assistants for diplomats on foreign postings. At present, diplomats hire their own domestic assistants for which the government reimburses them as per their pay scales.

The MEA proposal to go for fully taxpayer-funded domestic assistants for diplomats seeks a budget of Rs. 8 crore to Rs. 9 crore from the Finance Ministry. The figure was arrived at on the basis of the reimbursement rules of Group C employees in various overseas missions, highly placed official sources told The Hindu.

If the government approves the proposal, there will be no more cases such as those that have surfaced in the U.S. involving allegations of diplomats violating minimum wage stipulations in making payments to domestic assistants, the latest being the Devyani Khobragade episode.

Government-hired domestic assistants will have recourse to domestic laws but will be outside the jurisdiction of foreign laws, say the sources. The proposal has been vetted by the Law and Labour Ministries.

The Finance Ministry, however, is yet to take a call. It will have to weigh the implications of contract employees eventually demanding regular employment. “That would mean much higher outgoes on pensions and other benefits, all funded by taxpayers’ money,” said a Finance Ministry official.

The official also said: “The issues that need to be looked into include whether there will be a pool of domestic assistants from which diplomats will choose — as is the case with Chinese diplomats and the personal office assistants of Indian diplomats — or will they want their own servants to be hired on contract by the government?”

The MEA proposal also makes a case that besides keeping diplomats’ domestic service staff outside the jurisdiction of laws of the countries of their posting, their hiring contracts with the government will give them dignity and bring them under government rules for wages, leave etc.

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