April 6, 2023
Marking 11 years of the harmful Overseas Domestic Worker Visa
On 4 April 2023, ahead of the 11 year anniversary of the visa terms being changed and migrant domestic workers being stripped of their rights in the UK, workers, activists and supporters came together for a screening, followed by a panel discussion about how best to chart a path forward to access justice and ultimately see rights restored.
After a screening of ‘My Home Is Not My Home’ we heard from an excellent panel of speakers including migrant domestic workers, Natalie Sedacca, law professor and Kalayaan trustee, Zoe Gardner, migration and protection expert, Evie Breese, journalist covering worker rights at The Big Issue and Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour Member of Parliament for Streatham. Our event was hosted by Unite the Union and chaired by Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary for Equalities.
We heard workers speak clearly of the need for a bigger platform so that their experiences and demands for rights are known by a wider audience. Mimi Jalmasco said workers had been speaking out for 11 years and wanted to know why no action had been taken by the UK Government. She asked if migrant domestic workers’ rights are less worthy than the demands of abusive employers that the Government wants to attract to visit the UK.
Natalie then discussed in a practical sense what it would mean should workers have their rights restored. She spoke of the legal framework as it currently applies, including how some employers use the defence of the Family Worker Exemption when a worker challenges their failure to pay their salary in line with the UK’s National Minimum Wage.
Zoe followed next and praised the work already done by workers, and their supporters including Kalayaan and The Voice of Domestic Workers, in speaking out so well on the abuse perpetrated not by employers, but by the Government in not allowing workers to renew their visa. Zoe drew on learnings from the Windrush scandal and how it was a scandal long before it unfolded to the general public. She argued that the refugee and migrant sector should work together to create a similar moment when the Government finally realises the vital role played by this workforce and how they should have their rights restored.
Evie discussed the important role of the media and how stories of vulnerable workers need to be sensitively told whilst conveying the actual reality faced by workers every day at work. Such stories can only be told with the bravery of individuals and the support provided by charities working with them. Two such individuals had spoken to The Big Issue and their stories of survival are included in this week’s release of the magazine, available both online and in hard copy.
Our final panellist was Bell who spoke of the need to wilfully instruct politicians when it comes to important and urgent policy areas such as worker rights. She spoke of the need to hear directly from migrant workers and the experiences they have gone through so that politicians have their perspective inform the debate. She also stressed the importance of making sure that those who can vote are encouraged to do so, and to take part in democracy, rather than stay at home on voting day.
We were pleased to have some time at the end for our guests to provide their observations and ask questions to the panellists on how they could lend their support to the campaign to restore rights. We rounded of the evening with pizzas for everyone and more rich discussion amongst our guests with some networking.
Did you attend our event? We are continuously looking for ways to improve so if you have feedback or suggestions for future events, please do get in touch and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kalayaan would like to give particular thanks to our volunteer Matt Reynolds for his time and assistance with helping us to put on this event. Thank you Matt.