After Indian diplomat in the US Devyani Khobragade was arrested for allegedly paying a housekeeper only a third of her wage, an option being considered in the top echelons is that New Delhi should insist that Indian employees in the US embassy and consulates should be paid minimum US wages.
The arrest happened after US Attorney for the Southern District of New York India-born Preet Bharara announced charges of visa fraud against Devyani Khobragade and alleged that she had made false statements in connection with the visa application of an Indian national employed as a babysitter and housekeeper at her home in New York.
While making the suggestion to Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh over the last two days, senior Indian ambassadors have reasoned that since the US embassy is American territory, Indian workers — be it an official, gardener, help or a cook — should be given wages as per US labour laws.
South Block is said to be discussing this at the top level.
As per New York state law, the minimum hourly wage is $9.75 but the housekeeper was paid only about $3.31. Sources said she got about Rs 30,000 ($500) a month.
Indian staff in US embassies are said to be paid significantly lower wages than US nationals. CNN quoted from a 2009 US State Department report that some local employees hired by US embassies are paid so poorly they have to skip a meal or send children to peddle in the streets. The report that looked at how the US pays more than 51,000 local, non-American employees in about 170 missions found that the hardest hit were those at the lowest levels.
While resentment against the US behaviour is running high among Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officials, another suggestion that has emerged is that the “government” should sign contracts with housekeepers, not with officials as is the practice.
The logic is that in case of a contractual dispute housekeepers get free legal help from NGOs in the US, while officials have to fight lone battles. Such a contract will enable the government to fight against housekeepers. In fact, IFS officers want tit-for-tat responses.
Sources said the US embassy in New Delhi was aware of the differential payment made to housekeepers.
Meanwhile, Sujatha Singh is said to be extremely upset at the fact that she was not informed about the impending arrest of Devyani Khobragade by the New York police despite she being in the US for her first foreign office consultations this week.
The US administration, which gave its approval to move against the Indian deputy consul general, withheld this information from the foreign secretary reportedly because it did not want to mar her visit.