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What We Do

Kalayaan works with migrant domestic workers in the UK to improve and to help them access their rights. Migrant domestic workers are predominantly women who have entered the UK with a named employer to work in the employer’s private household. Some migrant domestic workers are in good employment where they are respected and paid properly for their important work which often involves caring for children or elderly people, cooking and cleaning.

Unfortunately however the hidden and often informal nature of work in a private home where the worker is dependent on their employers for housing and immigration status as well as employment and where hours are often seen to be flexible means that many workers are often seriously exploited, some are abused, and some subjected to forced labour or have been trafficked to the UK for domestic servitude. Kalayaan offers individual advice and support to migrant domestic workers in the UK as well as using this experience to produce data and briefings on the situation of migrant domestic workers in the UK, to feed into policy and to push for improvements of the rights of migrant domestic workers. Due to our limited capacity and specialist expertise we regret that we cannot offer support or services to people who are not migrant domestic workers.

Immigration Advice and Information on Employment Rights

Kalayaan is regulated by the OISC to give immigration advice to level 3. We have years of experience of working on the issues effecting migrant domestic workers and are able to deal with most basic issues. Where individuals come with advice needs beyond this level of competence we refer on to suitable solicitors where possible. We give basic information on employment rights and refer on where necessary. Advice is by appointment only. We have sessions available Monday – Friday and select Sundays.

Due to our limited capacity and area of expertise are services are only available to migrant domestic workers in the UK who entered on this route. We are not involved in helping people to come to the UK and do not give advice in this area.

English Classes

Kalayaan offers preparation classes to service users who are studying for the Life in the UK test and the SELTs exam, both required to apply for settlement.
We also run volunteer led English classes in our centre on Sundays. These classes are not certificated but provide an opportunity for workers to practise English and prepare for formal classes. As they are run by volunteers it means that learners who are not eligible for funding (who have been in the UK less than three years) can access classes for free. It is also a time when workers have some time for themselves, to meet friends and somewhere to go, outside of their employer’s house, in any time off they do have.
Please click for details on how to register.

Anti-Trafficking Work

The UN definition of Human Trafficking:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation”

Kalayaan’s services are open to all migrant domestic workers in the UK, irrespective of any exploitation they may, or may not have, experienced at the hands of their employers. Unfortunately a large number of the workers who come to Kalayaan have recently escaped exploitative employment, including forced labour and trafficking for domestic servitude. Between April 2012 and March 2014 Kalayaan staff internally assessed 69% of the workers on tied visas who registered with us during this time as having been trafficked (and 26% of those who had not been tied- ie who entered before the 2012 visa changes). One result of our experience in identifying and supporting migrant domestic workers who have been trafficked for domestic servitude is that we are a First Responder meaning that with their informed consent we can refer workers who we identify as having being trafficked into the National Referral Mechanism for identifying victims of trafficking (NRM). If identified as trafficked individuals get a 45 day rest and reflection period as well as access to legal aid and other support services. Workers who come to Kalayaan do so in confidence and those we identify as trafficked are under no obligation to enter the NRM.

Kalayaan’s expertise in working with victims of trafficking for domestic servitude resulted in us being called to give substantial oral evidence to the development of the Modern Slavery Bill on the importance of the Bill reinstating key protections to migrant domestic workers including the right to change employer and to renew the visa; to Frank Field’s evidence review published December 2013, to the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill which recognised the tied ODW visa as ‘strengthening the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery’ and recommended that the Home Office reverse the changes to the ODW visa. We also gave oral evidence on the 21st July 2014 to the Public Bill Committee on the Modern Slavery Bill. We have also submitted written evidence.

Kalayaan sits on the Anti Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG). The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group was established in May 2009 to coincide with the entry into force of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in the UK. Together the Group monitors the British Government’s implementation of the Convention and the EU Trafficking Directive (2011/36/EU) and examines all types of trafficking, including internal trafficking and the trafficking of British nationals. The Group operates according to a human rights based approach to protect the well-being and best interests of trafficked persons. The Group comprises thirteen leading UK-based anti-trafficking organisations: AFRUCA, Amnesty International UK, Anti-Slavery International, Ashiana Sheffield, Bawso, ECPAT UK, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), Helen Bamber Foundation, Kalayaan, Law Centre (NI), the Snowdrop Project, the TARA service and UNICEF UK. We also work closely with the Human Trafficking Foundation. The group combines the experiences and knowledge of members to produce research reports and briefings, share information and to engage with and influence anti trafficking policy making.
The Anti Trafficking Monitoring Group produced an Alternative Modern Slavery Bill, containing the legislation we believe necessary to protect victims and prevent slavery as well as to achieve successful prosecutions. Section 19 details the provisions necessary to meaningfully combat trafficking for domestic servitude.

Campaign and Policy Work

At Kalayaan we use our direct experience of working with and supporting migrant domestic workers to inform our campaigns work and to influence policy. Since 2012, our key campaign has been to reinstate the basic rights of migrant domestic workers which were removed in April 2012. Domestic workers arriving in the UK after this time were tied to their employers on a six month non renewable visa. Because of the imposition of the tie to their employer, domestic workers were unable to leave, even if escaping serious abuse including trafficking, without breaching the immigration rules. This situation was unjustifiable and left domestic workers with the miserable choice of enduring abuse or becoming criminalised and driven underground for escaping.

The reasons for these changes were unclear. It appears that the original domestic worker route which was introduced in 1998, providing protection for migrant domestic workers and recognised internationally as good practise did not fit with the UK’s immigration objectives.

Since migrant domestic workers were tied to their employers abuse reported to Kalayaan has increased substantially. This was predicted by Kalayaan and others including the Home Affairs Select Committee in their 2009 Inquiry into Trafficking whose report said that retaining the visa was “the single most important issue in preventing the forced labour and trafficking of such workers”

In the first two years since the tied visa was implemented Kalayaan registered 402 new migrant domestic workers. 120 of these workers were tied to their employers as they entered on the tied ODW visa or the diplomatic domestic worker visavi. New workers registering with Kalayaan give a report of their treatment in the job with which they entered the UK. It is noticeable that those who entered on a visa which tied them to their employers (the tied or the diplomatic domestic worker visa) had worse conditions and less freedom.

Migrant domestic workers (MDWs) who were tied to their employers were twice as likely to report having being physically abused as those who were not tied (16% and 8%).
Almost three quarters of those tied reported never being allowed out of the house where they lived and worked unsupervised (71%), compared to under half on the original visa (43%).
65% of tied MDWs didn’t have their own rooms, so shared with the children or slept in the kitchen or lounge, compared with 34% of those not tied.
53% worked more than 16 hours a day compared to 32% of those who had the right to change employer.
60% of those on the tied visa reported pay of less than £50 a week, compared with 36% on the original visa.

Kalayaan staff internally assessed more than double (69%) of those who were tied as trafficked in contrast with 26% of those who had not been tied. Two thirds of referrals into the National Referral Mechanism for identifying victims of trafficking made by Kalayaan were of domestic workers who were tied to their employers.

In 2013 the government announced the Modern Slavery Bill, but this contained no provisions to prevent the forced labour of domestic workers in the UK. Kalayaan together with Justice 4 Domestic Workers and other experts gave oral evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill which called for an urgent reversal of the April 2012 changes which had ‘unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master over the victim’. David Hanson MP tabled a clause at Committee stage of the bill and received considerable support. The vote for the amendment was defeated only by the casting vote of the chair but again defeated at Report stage.

Kalayaan, Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association and several others lent their support to amendment 94 in the names of Lord Hylton, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Baroness Cox in the House of Lords. The amendment re-introduced some of the basic but vital protections for domestic workers that were removed in April 2012, including the right to change employer and to extend their leave, for a period not exceeding 12 months. The amendment also included provision for a 3 month visa permitting a worker to live in the UK for the purposes of seeking alternative employment as a domestic worker where there is evidence they are a victim of modern slavery. Ultimately the amendment was defeated with the government giving limited concessions in Section 53 of the Act, at the time making provision for a worker to apply for leave for a maximum of 6 months as a recognised victim of trafficking.

Parliamentary debates during the passage of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 prompted the government to commission an independent review of the Overseas Domestic Worker regime, carried out by James Ewins QC. His review was published in December 2015 and found ‘the existence of a tie to a specific employer and the absence of a universal right to change employer and apply for extensions of the visa are incompatible with the reasonable protection of overseas domestic workers while in the UK’. The review recommended that domestic workers be allowed to change employers and to renew their visa for up to two years. It made a number of other recommendations including providing mandatory information sessions for all domestic workers staying in the UK for more than 42 days. Kalayaan welcomed these recommendations as a significant step towards preventing trafficking for domestic servitude and other forms of exploitation and enabling domestic workers in abusive situations to escape.

Unfortunately, while the Government accepted some of the review’s recommendations, it provided for domestic workers to change employer but only in the first 6 months. In reality abused workers who do leave their employer will have just a few months or weeks remaining on their visa in which to find work as a domestic worker and will likely be doing so without any references. This will not prove attractive to prospective employers. Overseas Domestic Workers will be left with a choice of remaining in an exploitative situation, risk entering into a new one or with no work and no recourse to public funds, becoming destitute.

Kalayaan also campaigns for the recognition of migrant domestic workers as workers and domestic work as work including for the removal of the family worker exemption which is so often used to attempt to justify the non payment of the national minimum wage, works to raise awareness with the police and other law enforcing bodies of the issues faced by migrant domestic workers including employers keeping workers passports, and for better statutory anti trafficking provisions.

Contact Us

St Francis of Assisi Community Centre
13 Hippodrome Place London W11 4SF

T 0207 243 2942

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About Us

Kalayaan was established in 1987 to provide advice, advocacy and support services in the UK for migrant domestic workers. We are NOT involved in helping people to come to the UK from another country. Migrant domestic workers are people who have entered the UK legally with an employer on a domestic worker visa to work in a private household.

The information in this website is for general guidance on your rights and responsibilities as a domestic worker in the UK and is not intended as legal advice on specific situations and should not be relied on as a source of legal advice. If you need more details on your rights or legal advice about what action to take, please contact Kalayaan or a solicitor.

Kalayaan endeavours to ensure the content of this website is accurate and up to date but does not accept any liability any loss, damage or inconvenience arising as a consequence of any use of or the inability to use any information on this website.

Kalayaan accepts no responsibility for the contents of linked websites. Links should not be taken as endorsement of any kind. Kalayaan has no control over the availability of the linked pages.

Content on this site is protected by copyright. The copyright owner is Kalayaan. You may not make alterations or additions to the material on this site, or use it for commercial purposes.