Immunity upheld

Court of Appeal judgement rules that diplomatic immunity is upheld, leaving diplomatic migrant domestic workers employed by diplomats without a remedy
5 February 2015
Kalayaan intervened in a case in the Court of Appeal concerning a migrant domestic worker found to be trafficked by a diplomat and her claim for compensation.
The case Reyes & Anor v Al Malki is a claim against a Saudi Arabian diplomat and his wife. The Claimants, who were employed successively in the diplomat’s household and who have both been found by the UK Competent Authority to have been trafficked for domestic servitude, are represented by the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU) who instructed Paul Luckhurst of Blackstone Chambers.
Kalayaan, a charity which gives support and advice to migrant domestic workers in the UK instructed Zubier Yazdani & Silvia Nicolaou Garcia of Deighton Pierce Glynn solicitors and Tom Hickman of Blackstone Chambers for their intervention. The Judgement, handed down on the 5th February 2015, has upheld the diplomats’ immunity, denying the claimants recourse to pursue claims through the employment tribunals. The claimants are appealing.
The case was heard together with Janah v Libya, Benkharbouche v Sudan in which the claimants, also domestic workers, challenged State immunity, seeking a declaration of incompatibility between the State Immunity Act 1968 and the claimants EU law rights. In a potentially groundbreaking judgement this decision of incompatibility was granted.
Zuber Yazdani said ‘Despite the UK recognising that the Appellants were subjected to treatment amounting to trafficking the Court has denied them a remedy preferring to uphold the immunity of a diplomat. Trafficking is inherently a commercial activity and has nothing to do with the functions of a diplomat. It would seem outrageous to anyone that the law should defend such abhorrent conduct. This is a disappointing decision from the Court which will no doubt be appealed.’
Kate Roberts, Community Advocate at Kalayaan said that ‘Kalayaan continues to advocate for justice for all migrant domestic workers, including those employed and trafficked by diplomats. The Reyes judgement and the fact that these individuals have not been able to pursue justice through the courts due to their employer’s claim to immunity further demonstrates the need for the UK to have domestic policies which protect all migrant domestic workers. Currently all migrant domestic workers are tied to their employers in law. This has been found by both the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill and the Joint Committee on Human Rights to facilitate their exploitation including trafficking. The UK needs to have legislation in place which allows domestic workers to change employers. For those employed in diplomatic households there needs to be enforceable contracts in place directly with embassies.’

Amendment tabled to ensure migrant domestic workers are protected by Modern Slavery Bill

Lord Hylton has tabled an important amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill which if passed at Report Stage would do a huge amount to protect migrant domestic workers against abuse and would close the gap in protections currently in the Bill. The amendment has received support from across the house with Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Labour), The Lord Bishop of Carlisle and Baroness Hanham (Conservative) having added their names as signatories to the Bill.

After Clause 51

Insert the following new Clause—

“Protection from slavery for overseas domestic workers

All overseas domestic workers in the United Kingdom, including those
working for staff of diplomatic missions, shall be entitled to—

(a) change their employer (but not work sector) while in the United

(b) renew their domestic worker or diplomatic domestic worker visa,
each such renewal being for a period not exceeding twelve months,
as long as they remain in employment and are able to support
themselves without recourse to public funds;

(c) a three month temporary visa permitting them to live in the United
Kingdom for the purposes of seeking alternative employment as an
overseas domestic worker where there is evidence that the worker
has been a victim of modern slavery.”

Do you want to end the tying of domestic workers to their employers?

ITV’s Exposure programme ‘Britain’s Secret Slaves’ shown on the 19th January 2015 highlights the real impacts of tying migrant domestic workers to their employers.

Please consider writing to your MP and asking them where they stand on this issue. Kalayaan would be grateful to see copies of any replies you receive.

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

You are welcome to adapt and use the template letter below.

House of Commons


Britain’s Secret Slaves: Migrant domestic workers
You may have seen ITV’s recent Exposure programme ‘Britain’s Secret Slaves’ which examined the situation of migrant domestic workers in the UK. The programme found that the result of changes to the visa system introduced in April 2012 is that migrant domestic workers are vulnerable to shocking exploitation and are criminalised when they escape.
The current system requires domestic workers to enter on a six month tied visa which prohibits them leaving their employer, no matter how they are treated. It replaces a system which had been recognised both nationally and internationally as providing vital protection to migrant domestic workers.
Since domestic workers have been tied to employers reported exploitation to the NGO Kalayaan has increased including;
• workers having no time off (79%),
• having their passports taken from them (78%),
• Not allowed out of the house unaccompanied (71%), and
• being paid little or nothing (60% paid less than £50/ week).

Physical, psychological and sexual abuse is also reported. This treatment is illegal in the UK yet as the workers cannot leave and go to the authorities – because to do so will immediately make them illegal immigrants – the employers are getting away with it.
The original migrant domestic worker visa worked well. Domestic workers were recognised as workers under UK law and could leave an employer. They had no recourse to public funds and work was limited to one full time job as a domestic worker in a private household. This meant there was no reason to leave unless working conditions were poor.
The Modern Slavery Bill as it stands currently provides no meaningful protections for migrant domestic workers. The Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill recently described the 2012 tied visa as unintentionally strengthening the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery and stated that ‘the moral case for revisiting this issue is urgent and overwhelming. Protecting these victims does not require primary legislation and we call on the Government to take immediate action.’ Unbelievably the Government have rejected this recommendation.
I would like to know where you, my MP, stand on this issue. Please would you reassure me that you oppose the current system and support the Joint Committee’s recommendation to reverse the tied visa and to reintroduce the rights of migrant domestic workers in the UK?
Yours sincerely,

Exposure: Britain’s Secret Slaves.


You can watch Britain’s Secret Slaves again here

TX: 10.35pm on Monday January 19, 2015
This is a Hardcash production for ITV

“It was like a hell. She treat me as a slave. Not like a human being, I was treated like an animal. It was hard. But I stayed for my son.” – Elizabeth, domestic worker

Exposure delves into the world of modern slavery – and finds it alive and well in some of London’s most exclusive streets.

Featuring testimony from women who are forced to work up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week for as little as 50 pence an hour, this programme provides a close insight into the conditions of domestic workers brought into the country by their wealthy foreign employers.

Reporter Julie Etchingham finds that many of the women report physical and psychological abuse, despite the fact they are meant to be protected by British law while working here.

Because of recent changes in visa laws, the women have no legal status if they leave the families who employ them. The programme discovers how those who escape from abusive employers are exploited by criminals who draw them into a murky underworld of fake passports, false visas, and illegal employment.

One case study the team found during its 12-month investigation, ‘Ira’, says she was brought to the UK under the new system, to care for her employers’ child at a London hospital. Back in Saudi Arabia she worked up to 20 hours a day and had to ask permission to brush her teeth and go to the toilet. In the UK she explains this got worse.

She says: “They treat me as like a prisoner. They never ever give me even a single pound to buy my own food, even my personal things. Especially one time I have monthly period here I [had to] use only the nappy of a boy.”

The UK has legal obligations to protect domestic workers from abuse. The Government says it does this by ensuring women are given information by British officials about their rights in the UK. Another woman, ‘Davina’, says she was given no information and once in the UK lived in fear of her employer.

She says: “He says, ‘I can kill you.’ I was scared maybe he will do something, he will really kill me. I cannot sleep thinking about maybe one day I will die here.”

The programme discovers it is not just women working for private households who are suffering abuse. ‘Sarah’ says she was locked inside her employer’s apartment, forced to work 18 hours a day for a diplomat who withheld her wages.

She says: “I’m scared because he’s a diplomat, that’s what I’m scared of. He can do whatever he want to do, as he has immunity under the law. It’s really a slavery, the thing that my employer did to me.”

In April 2012, in an effort to cut immigration numbers, the Government changed the visa system so women were tied to the employers who brought them in. If they run away, they now find themselves at risk of deportation – and critics have compared this process to the ‘kafala’ system used by many Middle Eastern and Gulf countries, which essentially makes domestic workers the property of their employers.

Kate Roberts, a Community Advocate at Kalayaan, a charity that supports overseas domestic workers, says: “To put vulnerable women in a position where they are enslaved in the UK is completely disproportionate to the Government’s aims of controlling immigration. It’s completely contradictory to have removed a visa system which was shown to work well and replace it with one that, that has been condemned by human rights groups as a model tying these workers to their employers.”

One woman, too terrified to go on camera, recorded a secret diary for the programme. It reveals that she was brought here two years ago by a wealthy family from the United Arab Emirates who stopped paying her, and she fled with only the clothes she was wearing. She discovered she had no legal right to change employers and had to go on to the black market to find a job illegally.

She writes: “I am tired but I want job. I want money for my family. Only me work. I have three brother. Have three sisters. Small sister married and husband not work. She is always sick also. Another big sister. Her husband die. I am so tired but I can’t do anything. Because everybody ask for papers.”

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has said that abolishing modern slavery in Britain is a personal priority. Marissa Begonia, who helps runaways as chair of the Justice 4 Domestic Workers group, says the system needs to change urgently.

She says: “What kind of system do we have that the victims are the ones being criminalised? And licensing the perpetrators to abuse more, to exploit more workers. Where is the justice there?”

Press contact: Tom Hodson 020 7157 3015 or
Picture contact: Peter Gray 020 7157 3046 or

Strong support from Peers to end slavery of domestic workers

On Wednesday 10th December the Modern Slavery Bill reached Committee Stage in the House of Lords. Amendment 94, which would have done much to protect Overseas Domestic Workers from slavery but allowing them to change employer and apply to renew their visa if in full time employment as a domestic worker in a private household, was hotly debated. It is clear that many Peers keenly feel the injustice of the current system which bonds migrant domestic workers to their employers.

Disappointingly the Government continue to attempt to defend the current arrangement; in spite of all the evidence to date showing that the abuse of migrant domestic workers is being facilitated by the tied ODW visa. There is likely to be a vote on this matter at Report stage in February and Kalayaan remains positive that Peers will demand that the current tied visa is reversed.