Kalayaan is delighted that the tied visa has been recognised for what it is; a route which facilitates abuse and exploitation. We applaud Chris Bryant MP for being prepared to take real action to prevent and address slavery and other abuses which take place in private home in the UK.
Kalayaan has concerns that while migrant domestic workers remain tied to their employers the Modern Slavery Bill will never have the effective witnesses it needs to secure criminal prosecutions.
Kalayaan considers the lack of additional support measures for victims of trafficking in the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, published on the 16 December 2013 to be a missed opportunity. In particular we had hoped for a parallel commitment to reinstate the original Overseas Domestic Worker visa, a system proven to allow some protections against the abuse of this particularly vulnerable group of migrants. We consider the Government’s defence that information leaflets are supposedly given to migrant domestic workers when they apply to enter the UK absurd: In our experience most migrant domestic workers do not receive this information and without rights which they can access in practise an information leaflet is no help anyway.
Domestic servitude remains both prevalent and hidden in the UK and evidence shows that measures introduced in April 2012 which tie migrant domestic workers to their employer, preventing them from leaving have both increased the abuse of migrant domestic workers while criminalising and driving the victims underground1. To date there has only been one successful prosecution for trafficking an adult for domestic servitude. As we submitted in our written and oral evidence to the Modern Slavery Bill Evidence Review, in order for migrant domestic workers to come forward and give evidence to allow for successful prosecutions they must be supported in law to do so. In contrast the current immigration rules play into the hands of their exploiters.
We are encouraged that the Report of the Modern Slavery Bill Evidence Review acknowledges the problems with the current tied visa and states that it exposes domestic workers to the risk of exploitation. However we believe that the recommendations to ‘consider the reinstatement of the right to change employer’ do not go far enough. The original visa was recognised internationally as best practise and should be reinstated in its entirely. In the meantime, while considerations are made and debated we are failing the victims.
Our warmest congratulations to Fiona Mactaggart, who has a long and firm commitment to protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers in the UK. Her report Service not Servitude argues strongly in favor of mantaining rights and protections for this particularly vulnerable group of workers and we were proud to have her sponsor a joint Kalayaan, J4DW and Unite event in March 2013 ‘Slavery by another name‘, which looked at the effects of the tied migrant domestic worker (or ODW) visa once year on.
We look forward to continuing to work closely with Fiona Mactaggart to ensure that protections for migrant domestic workers in the UK are reinstated.
Kalayaan has produced a briefing showing the dire impacts of tying domestic workers to their employers. Findings from reports made by workers to Kalayaan over the last year make it clear that treatment has worsened for those on the tied visa and that those who do escape are being driven underground.
These findings make it more imperative than ever that the rights contained within the original migrant domestic worker visa are reinstated.
Kalayaan was delighted with the opportunity to meet the Prime Minster and to raise with him directly the ways in which the tied migrant domestic worker visa both facilitates, and prevents escape from, slavery.
On the 22nd April 2013 the Prime Minster opened the Human Trafficking Foundation‘s Hidden Slavery Exhibition in the House of Commons. The exhibition featured two migrant domestic workers who had escaped slavery. One was on the original migrant domestic worker visa and so had been able to move on with her life. The second was on the tied visa and still underground, in limbo and unable to access justice.
The 6th April 2013 marks the first anniversary of the removal of basic rights protections from migrant domestic workers including the vital right to change employers allowing workers to escape abuse. We are beginning to see the effects of these changes with workers who entered on the new visa being criminalised and driven underground to further exploitation.
If you are an employer and would like to let the Government know your views, Kalayaan would encourage you to do this. It is important that the Government hear concerns from people with different perspecitves on the issue. You will find notes on how you can help here. The best things you can do as an employer are to write to your MP (template letter here) or to fill out a consultation response (see above).
International Labour Organisation- THE CONVENTION TO PROTECT DOMESTIC WORKERS
The International Labour Organization’s 2011 Convention concerning decent work for domestic workers (Convention No. 189) was adopted in June 2011 to protect the rights of domestic workers across the world.
Countries ratifying the ILO Convention agree to ensure fair and decent conditions for domestic workers by protecting their fundamental labour rights, preventing abuse and violence and establishing safeguards for young domestic workers.
Only a few countries have ratified the Convention so far – as of January 2014 only 11 have completed the ratification procedure. In 2011 the UK Government abstained from voting, citing excellent domestic legislation as reason that the ILO protections are not needed. These are the protections which the Government went on to remove in 2012.