27 Dec 2016

Employee's accidental text sacking case thrown out

9:16 am on 27 December 2016

A domestic worker who says she was unfairly sacked by the South African High Commissioner has had her case thrown out by the Employment Relations Authority.

South African High Commissioner Zodwa Lallie.

South African High Commissioner Zodwa Lallie Photo: RNZ

High Commissioner Zodwa Lallie successfully invoked diplomatic immunity.

Patience Komla, from Ghana, was sacked in March after accidentally sending a text meant for a friend to an employee at the High Commission.

She was told she had breached her contract as the text mentioned Ms Lallie.

She took her case to the Authority and argued because her role did not relate to the commissioner's official functions, an investigation would pose no risk to the High Commission, or by extension, South Africa.

The authority needed to decide if local labour laws had been breached, she said.

However, the authority ruled against her, saying she was privately hired by Ms Lallie, rather than being involved in a commercial relationship, as Ms Komla argued.

Ms Lallie's lawyer Peter Cullen cited several historic cases, including a United States Court of Appeal case involving a domestic worker in a Jordanian diplomat's home.

That court ruled "day-to-day living services such as dry cleaning or domestic help" as being incidental to daily life and therefore "not meant to be treated as outside a diplomat's official functions".

The Authority did also say: "There has been little judicial consideration in New Zealand of what constitutes commercial activity or of what activities might fall outside a diplomatic agent's official functions."