India and the US still seem locked in a battle for righteousness over the Khobragade issue as the strategic partners pick up the pieces after the bitter standoff, bringing the bilateral engagement back on track by scheduling the energy dialogue next month.
With the US authorities refusing to withdraw visa fraud charges against diplomat Devyani Khobragade, Indian authorities are proceeding with the pursuit of tax issues related to American School employment contracts and are also closely following contracts entered into by US diplomats here with their domestic helps.
One such contract between a Mumbai-based US diplomat and his Filipina maid, a copy of which is with Times of India, suggests that the maid is being paid less than $3 per hour. The minimum hourly wage in the US is $7.25.
According to her lawyer, Khobragade actually paid $9.75 per hour to her maid in New York, as promised by her in the employment contract, in the form of the amount paid here to her husband and also cash payments and "permissible deductions'' for various services in the US.
The US state department says that the salary paid to local staff of US diplomats is based on "prevailing wage rates and compensation practices''. Unlike the contract between Khobragade and her maid Sangeeta Richard, though, this one between the US official and his maid doesn't carry any stipulation of hours of work. The contract, which came into effect on December 1 last year, says the Filipina maid would work "six full workdays per week'' at a salary of $458 per month. Even at only eight hours per day, it is perhaps safe to assume she works well over 40 hours every week.
Authorities here believe the Khobragade contract was more favourably inclined towards the maid also because it restricted work to five days and 40 hours per week. The Filipina also has only five holidays apart from a 12-day annual leave and no ticket for home leave during the period of three years. On the other hand, all domestic helps going with Indian diplomats are entitled to a return air ticket after completing a year's stay abroad.
There was no response from the US embassy here on questions about the contract between the US diplomat and the Filipina maid. Like Richard, the Filipina maid too has rent-free accommodation, free internet and food allowance. She also has "appropriate contributions'' to the Philippine Social Security System. While the Filipina maid has medical insurance, Richard had "100 per cent'' medical cover under which all such expenses were borne by the Indian government.
In case of any negligence, the contract with the Filipina maid also specifies that all such issues will be decided by the employer only. There is no option of any recourse to local courts or US courts or even courts in the Philippines.
CNN reported in 2009, quoting a state department report, that many local staff of US diplomats across the world were being paid less than a dollar per day. The state department-mandated contract between Khobragade and Richard projected an average of 40 working hours per week (approximately a salary of $1,560 per month at an hourly wage of $9.75). Around $560 was given in the form of Rs 30,000 transferred to her husband's account, another $625 in cash and remaining in deductions.
Meanwhile, income tax department has also begun a probe into alleged tax violations by the American Embassy School here. "Once the preliminary information is gathered, the tax department would be taking a view on issuing notices to the authorities concerned. Also, the CBDT would be informed as this is not a regular case and involves relations between two countries," an agency report quoting government sources said.
As per information available with the government, several teachers at the American Embassy School were working "illegally", in violation of both tax laws and their visa status.