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High Commissions under scrutiny in Barbados and region

High Commissions in Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries are under scrutiny for alleged infractions in human resources practices related to staff who are recruited from the local pool across the region. Lured by competitive salaries and the appearance that the workplace is safe from discrimination and autocratic rule, many local staff are reportedly complaining that they are now in fear of losing their jobs.

missions.jpg Foreign missions in Bridgetown, Barbados, are also coming under scrutiny, particularly since unpopular decisions were reportedly made at a mission representing the face of a major G7 nation in the Caribbean that is known for its intolerance to human rights abuses, particularly against local women and the disenfranchised.

After a number of complaints, missions are examined, information is posted but usually archived, and information through the countries' freedom of information laws is still hard to obtain, even in the name of free speech.

Consular missions across CARICOM are appearing more and more like colonial masters, say some regional human rights activists.

According to informed ministry sources, local staff employed in various roles, from maintenance, through international cooperation to accounts, are in a quandary as to how to get the Barbados and regional governments to educate the embassy's posted staff to the region, and especially so in Barbados, regarding their responsibility to observe local labour laws, cultural norms and traditions and respect locals.

Sources say this problem is also being experienced across the Caribbean but the more vocal Jamaican and Trinidadian staff have been able to get their concerns addressed. Local staff are crying racism, classism, "serial harassment", sexual harassment, discrimination and victimization and are asking local governments to intervene. However, governments across CARICOM are reported as being reluctant to "bite the hand that feeds them".

Sources from across the region wishing to remain anonymous for fear of losing their livelihood are adamant that they will go to the heads of government of the mission countries if necessary, especially since they are privy to email addresses and telephone numbers that are not open to the public.

Reports in another section of the regional press suggest that some embassies are refusing to allow staff to observe national holidays and make them work 14-hour days against their own rules, while the US Embassy allows local workers to observe both US and local holidays.

In addition, while paying into the social security schemes of host countries, diplomats are reported routinely to ignore the rights of local staff while ensuring that their posted diplomats and colleagues (who are rotated) enjoy a paid island vacation and collect benefits from both countries.

Allegations are rife that posted diplomats are abusing their own social security systems while posted in their host countries and are allegedly being facilitated by their own colleagues at headquarters around the world. Local employees are saying that naturally they do not enjoy the same status as posted diplomats but are routinely fired (without cause), severely disciplined by demotion, pay withheld or forced to face a tribunal where they are denied a representative from the host country.

Beleaguered staff say that this is a human rights issue and demand proper representation. However, embassy staff are not allowed to be unionized. Should local staff have an issue with a posted diplomat (and all posted diplomats are their managers), then locals must go to a higher authority, which is also represented by the people from the sending country with no local representation. This gives missions an obvious advantage when it comes to abuses, say regional lawyers.

Workers across the region are up in arms that this also goes against all the major country's mandates to uphold democracy and to protect the rights of people.

A few missions singled out for the allegations include China, UK, Canada and, to a lesser extent, the US. While staff have to adhere to strict rules within the workplace, reports of diplomats arriving to post inebriated and improperly clothed, cursing and attacking staff have also reached Caribbean News Now. The latest report again comes from a major G7 country that had a recent election.

Workers across the region, who are fully aware that they cannot go to a union, are asking where they can find some kind of fairness regarding issues that affect them on a daily basis. Physical and verbal fights that broke out at one embassy were never resolved because the diplomat in question claimed diplomatic immunity from prosecution for assault. It is alleged that when the senior staff member notified the police in Barbados, the police were reluctant to visit the St George home to question the diplomat.

Reports also suggest that the autocratic and heavy handed approach of certain heads of mission and other embassy management staff, leave the employees with no recourse in the courts or anywhere else. However, a senior Barbados attorney has made it clear that embassy staff can be sued and are not subject to full immunity anywhere in the world.

The attorney maintained that diplomats who arrived in any country, anywhere in the world could also be arrested, as had happened in other jurisdictions. He also pointed out where a Barbadian diplomat was cited in New York years ago and where court actions had prevailed against several diplomats from large countries represented in Barbados.

He continued that diplomats would be well served to make themselves aware of the law as it relates to being in a host country so as to not run afoul of local laws.

In the meantime, staffers at embassies are breathing collective sighs of relief whenever a supposed rogue diplomat’s rotation comes to an end. However, disgusted local staff are saying they should not have to wait on a diplomat to leave and said that diplomats have been recalled from embassies but kept quiet. Some of those embassies include the US, UK and Canada.

Local staff across the region suggest that background checks for mental and other health issues and human resources complaints should be done before diplomats are posted to the region.

"It is high time that our foreign ministries not act like beggars and declare these miscreants persona non grata and get these commoners out of our country. We are tired making complaints to have our matters unresolved to then have to deal with another twisted diplomat on our shores," said one senior mission employee.

Courtesy Caribbean News Now