Lost opportunity as the Modern Slavery Bill leaves migrant domestic workers tied to employers

On the 25th March the House of Lords voted against Lord Hylton’s amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill which would have allowed migrant domestic workers in the UK to change employers, doing much to prevent abuse.

The Commons amendment in lieu, proposed by the Government on the 17th March, is included in the Bill. Following this amendment migrant domestic workers who have been found by the Government’s National Referral Mechanism to have been trafficked may receive a six month visa as a domestic worker.

The Commons’ amendment does not improve the current situation for domestic workers. In spite of this amendment migrant domestic workers in the UK remain tied to their employers, and will have no protection and security upon escaping employers until they have a positive NRM decision. This means workers would be expected to escape from their employers and approach the authorities while their immigration status is still insecure. Kalayaan and others have highlighted the shortcomings of this amendment which rather than empowering workers and so going some way to prevent abuse, waits until migrant domestic workers have become victims and have approached the authorities before offering any protection. This is especially concerning given that evidence to date shows that since being tied to their employers fewer workers are coming forward.

The Government have commissioned a review into the current tied visa which Kalayaan and others will submit evidence to. The review is due to report in July 2015.

The Modern Slavery Bill has left migrant domestic workers open to abuse

17th March 2015
Shamefully, MPs in the House of Commons have voted against the protections against slavery for migrant domestic workers. These basic protections, which allowed migrant domestic workers in the UK to change employer and to apply to renew their visa, had been voted into the Modern Slavery Bill by the House of Lords on the 25th February.

The Government opposed the amendment, arguing that by allowing migrant domestic workers to change employer, workers may not go forward to the police and their employers may escape prosecution.

This makes no sense and is morally abhorrent. It also won’t work.

The Modern Slavery Bill is proposing to keep workers we know to be vulnerable to extreme abuses including trafficking and slavery tied to their employers on a visa which has been found to facilitate their abuse in order that these same workers will then before forced to go to the authorities if they are to get any form of protection. In the almost three years during which migrant domestic workers have been tied to their employers, fewer workers known to Kalayaan have gone to the authorities, not more, because they are too scared. They have been made undocumented and criminalised by the act of escaping criminal abuse committed against them. The Government’s amendment instead proposes that those migrant domestic workers who are Conclusively recognised as trafficked through the Government’s identification system may get a six month visa to work as a domestic worker. This will not change the current situation, whereby migrant domestic workers feel unsafe to challenge or to leave abuse, as it offers no protection to any workers until they have gone to the authorities. The worker, terrified, and threatened, in escaping abuse is expected to take a leap of faith. These workers are not coming forward now and we cannot see what the Government’s amendment offers which would change this.

Of the 214 workers who Kalayaan internally identified as trafficked since April 2012 only 63 have consented to a referral into the NRM. In the same time period only 25 workers consented to us supporting them to go to the police. There remains no upheld conviction for trafficking an adult to the UK for domestic servitude. The only conviction for slavery took place prior to migrant domestic workers being tied to their employers. While domestic workers remain insecure and criminalised they are not in a position to think about justice.

Write to your MP asking them to keep protections for migrant domestic workers in the Modern Slavery Bill

Please write to your MP asking them to support the continued inclusion of protections for migrant domestic workers in the Modern Slavery Bill.

Wednesday 25th February was a historic win for migrant domestic workers in the UK when Peers in the House of Lords voted to include important protections against slavery for migrant domestic workers in the Modern Slavery Bill. It is important that these protections remain in the Bill and are not removed if there is a vote on this matter in the House of Commons.

There is not much time. If the Government proposes any amendment to take out these protections this would be likely to be debated during the week of the 9th March.

If you don’t know who your MP is, you can find out here

Feel welcome to use the template letter below. You letter will of course be more powerful if you also use some of your own words. Please make sure you include your full address in the letter so your MP knows that you are one of their constituents:

House of Commons


I am writing to ask if you, my MP, will support the continued inclusion of an important clause to protect migrant domestic workers from slavery in the Modern Slavery Bill.

On the 25th February Peers in the House of Lords voted to include an important amendment, which (i) allows migrant domestic workers in the UK to change employer, (ii) if in employment as a domestic workers to apply to renew their visa, and (iii) to grant those found to have been a victim of slavery a temporary three month visa to give them a chance to find a decent job and begin to rebuild their lives.

Until the Peers voted to include these important protections the Bill did nothing to address the fact that since April 2012 migrant domestic workers have been tied by the immigration rules to the named employer with who they entered the UK on a 6 month, non renewable visa. This means that those who are mistreated or abused have to either endure this treatment, or escape and in doing so breach the terms of their visa.

Reports by migrant domestic workers who approach Kalayaan, a small charity in London, for support show that, as well as stripping workers of options once they escape, the treatment of workers has also worsened with the removal of the basic right of being able to leave their job without breaking the law. Workers on the tied visa are more likely to have been physically abused, never allowed out of their employers’ house, to sleep in the lounge or kitchen and to work more than 16 hours a day.

Between April 2012 and 2014 Kalayaan staff internally assessed more than double (69%) of those who were tied by their visa to their employer as trafficked in contrast with 26% of those who had not been tied.

Migrant domestic workers have long been recognised as particularly vulnerable to abuse because of their dependence on one employer for their work, their visa, most information about the UK and their accommodation. The tied visa tipped this inbalance in power further still, with most workers having their employer’s name written on their visa and being unable to resign from their job lawfully, no matter what their employer did to them.

The Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill found that ‘In the case of the domestic worker’ visa, policy changes have unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery’. The Committee called on the Government to take immediate action. The Peers have now ensured that the necessary protections to reverse these policy changes are in the Bill and that if the Bill passes as is domestic workers will be able to escape abuse without fearing that they are breaking the law. I very much hope that as my MP you will support the continued inclusion of the amendment in the Bill if there is a vote on the matter.

Yours sincerely,