To bypass foreign labour laws, MEA seeks govt staff status for domestic help

Devyani Khobragade fatherDevyani Khobragade’s father Uttam Khobragade in New Delhi, Tuesday. Anil Sharma

Following the Devyani Khobragade case, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has cleared a proposal to give the status of government employees to the personal staff of Indian diplomats posted abroad, including cooks and other domestic help. This would mean that such staff would not be under the labour laws of the respective countries, and their salary bill would be taken care of by the Government of India.

The MEA sent the proposal to the Ministry of Finance on Monday night. If implemented, no foreign country would be able to proceed against any Indian Foreign Service officer on issues related to how they treat their personal staff from India.

The MEA has asked the department of expenditure in the finance ministry to also permit diplomats of the rank of director and above to employ two such staff members. The MEA has said that the financial implication of the proposal would not be substantial as the Indian government already pays an allowance under this head to diplomats posted abroad.

The MEA's reasoning is that since the Government of India is already issuing official passports, paying for insurance and travel, including one home visit, during the tenure, entering into a short-term government contract does not make any material change but could help avoid such situations in the future.

But the finance ministry is opposed to the plan as it fears that it may become an open-ended liability. An official pointed out that once the personal staff are made government employees, there is no provision in the service manuals to retrench them. "These people cannot be made contract employees with a limited term of employment as that will not provide them the immunity being sought," explained the official.

As government employees, they would be eligible for all salary and pension privileges.

Moreover, with the number of Indian government employees being posted abroad increasing, there would be copycat demands to give all of them the same status, added the official.

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