The Australian Court fined India’s ex-HC Suri Singh $136,000

HC's Former Employee Wins $136,000 Compensation in Australian Court

The Australian Court has ordered India’s former high commissioner, Navdeep Suri Singh, to pay more than $136,000 in compensation to his former domestic employee, Seema Sherghill, for unpaid wages and unfair working conditions.

Seema Sherghill, who arrived in Australia in April 2015, spent approximately a year working at the residence of the then-high commissioner in Canberra. Her testimony in the Australian court unveiled a shocking tale of grueling work and unjust remuneration.

Australian Fines

Sherghill revealed to the Australian Court that she worked seven days a week, often putting in long hours amounting to 17.5 hours per day. Her duties included house cleaning, meal preparation, and garden maintenance, and she was rarely allowed outside the premises except to take care of Mr. Suri’s dog.

Despite the demanding workload, she initially received a meager equivalent of about $7.80 per day, which was later increased to just $9 per day after her complaints. In total, Sherghill received a mere $3,400 for her 13 months of labor.

Furthermore, Sherghill had previous experience working for Suri during his tenure as India’s Ambassador to Egypt. On this occasion, her responsibilities extended to maintaining an eight-bedroom house entirely on her own.

“I was responsible for doing everything,” Sherghill recounted, with ABC News quoting her as saying, “When he and his wife were away, instead of my usual chores, Mr. Suri or his wife usually would ask me to make large batches of samosas and freeze them, or to clean the silverware. They would call and check up on me, to ensure that I was working.”

Sherghill also noted that Suri’s wife was equally demanding, often pushing her to work harder and making comments about her earnings.

In May 2016, Seema Sherghill fled the residence without taking any of her belongings, eventually finding herself homeless. Her journey led her to the Fair Work Ombudsman, who connected her with the Salvation Army, eventually resulting in her obtaining Australian citizenship in 2021.

Despite Navdeep Suri Singh’s absence at the hearing, Justice Elizabeth Raper allowed the case to proceed and found the former Indian High Commissioner in violation of four sections of the Fair Work Act.

“[Ms. Sherghill’s] employment conditions bore no resemblance to what one would expect under Australian law,” Justice Raper declared. “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.”

Justice Raper also ruled that Suri was not entitled to claim foreign state immunity, as Sherghill did not work for the High Commission itself, nor did she have diplomatic immunity. The engagement of a domestic worker was not an official function of his position.

In a final decision, Justice Raper ordered Navdeep Suri Singh to compensate Seema Sherghill with more than $136,000, plus interest, to be paid within 60 days.

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