By Jonisayi Maromo

Pretoria – Police units and armed private security were on high alert at the United Arab Emirates embassy in Pretoria on Friday as members of local diplomatic staff union Ulemasa protested against alleged human rights abuses and labour law infringements at the diplomatic mission.

“Employees are being dismissed anyhow and the embassy officials contend that they are immune to South African law. They say they can do whatever they see fit with these workers. We are here to fight that. The Vienna Convention states clearly that the sending state [of a diplomatic mission] must respect the laws of the receiving state,” said the Union of Local Employees of Missions Accredited to SA’s (Ulemasa) general organiser, Ayanda Molefe.

“We are here to enforce compliance within the embassy. We are pleading with Dirco [the department of international relations] a to ensure that the embassies comply with the Labour Relations Act. They must comply with the Constitution of South Africa. Dirco is very much aware of the abuses going on in the embassies. This is not the only embassy where workers are enduring ill-treatment.”

She said the abuses common in the diplomatic missions in Pretoria include sexual exploitation, long working hours and at times physical assault of workers.

“Workers in the United Arab Emirates embassy here endure racism, discrimination against women. This embassy does not comply with the Labour Relations Act of this Republic. We want them to comply,” she said.

“Next up we are going to be picketing at Dirco. These embassies are being protected by Dirco. We are going to be visiting different embassies, the fight is not stopping here. This was just a warning and we are going to strike and shut down some of these embassies.”

Joining the picket on Friday was Reem Mutwali who alleges that after working for the UAE mission for two years, she was fired directly by Ambassador Ambassador Mahash Saeed Alhameli “for the political instability in my country of origin Sudan”.

“It was just one Friday, on 21 June, when the ambassador told me I had to leave this embassy instantly. That is how I was fired. I had been working here as an Arabic translator at the military office. It was so sudden and unexpected. The ambassador referred to the instability, the political situation, in my home country when he dismissed me. That was all,” she said.

“There was no explanation, and I was not given reasons. I didn’t get any documentation for my dismissal.”

On Friday, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor’s spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said all foreign missions should abide by South African laws.

“South Africa is governed by the rule of law and that includes the labour laws and so on. It is expected that all the people who are in South Africa would follow the law. If there are people being abused, the law of South Africa allows them to take up those issues with the department of labour. It would be difficult to think there are South Africans being abused and they don’t have recourse,” Ngqengelele told the African News Agency.

“There are laws governing how people who are working should be treated. If there are incidents, they have to be reported to relevant authorities.”

The UAE embassy had not responded to media enquiries on the allegations.

African News Agency (ANA)

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