Kalayaan client ID 3465
Case Study ‘Rupa’ (name and identifying details have been changed)
Rupa arrived at Kalayaan scared and destitute. She had escaped the smart central London holiday apartments where she was staying with her employers the previous day and had spent the night with someone she had met and begged for help. They had brought her to Kalayaan.
Rupa and her employers are Indian and she explained that she had worked for her employers for over 4 years in India. They had told her they were bringing her to the UK while they were here on holiday as they needed her to look after their baby. Rupa explained that she had little choice but to work for these employers in spite of what she knew were poor conditions as her husband is sick and cannot work to support their family.
Rupa had no say in the decision to come to the UK, nor did anyone at the British High Commission in India speak to her during the visa application process for which she was accompanied by her employer or explain anything about UK employment law.
Rupa explained that her passport was taken from her by her employers as they boarded the plane to India and she has never seen it since.
Once in the UK Rupa explained that she was on call all the time as she had sole charge for the baby, who regularly got her up during the night. She slept on the floor next to the baby’s cot and never had any breaks or time off. She didn’t have a key to the property and never went out except with her employers. She ran away because she was exhausted, was paid £26 a week, and she was regularly shouted at by the baby’s mother.
When Rupa came to Kalayaan she had no money, no belongings apart from the clothes she was wearing, knew no one and did not have her passport or know what her immigration status was. She was tearful and suffering from years of being shouted at. She told us she needed to find another job in order to send money to her family.
We had to explain to Rupa that she was almost certainly on the tied ODW visa, which prohibited her from working for anyone other than the employer with who she entered the UK. When she asked us to support her getting her passport back we had to explain that involving the police would almost certainly result in her being detained and her passport confiscated until she left the UK. We explained that there were indicators of Rupa having been trafficked for domestic servitude and with her consent we could refer her into the Government’s identification system for victims of trafficking. However Rupa didn’t see how this was in her interest; she needed to work and to earn money.
Rupa spent the day at Kalayaan, crying and talking through her miserable options. At the end of the day she decided to go back to her employers. She needed to work. Even if in conditions of servitude for pittance.
Had Rupa come to Kalayaan before April 2012, when migrant domestic workers had the right to change employer we could have worked with the police to secure the return of her passport, supported her to challenge her employers for unpaid wages and helped her to find a good job. She wouldn’t have had recourse to public funds or been able to renew her visa without employment but she would have had a chance at justice. Kalayaan client ID 3465
Between, April 2012 and April 2014, the following abuse statistics were reported by 120 migrant domestic workers who are tied to their employers and who registered at Kalayaan:
No day off: 79%
Had passport confiscated: 78%
Not allowed out of the house unsupervised: 71%
Psychological abuse (eg. being regularly shouted at and humiliated): 65%
Did not have a room of their own, or any personal space: 65%
Paid less than £50 a week: 60%
Migrant domestic workers in the UK (known as Overseas Domestic Workers, ODWs by the UK Border Agency) have long been recognised as being especially vulnerable to exploitation including trafficking because they are so dependent on the employers with who they live and work. In 1998, in recognition of this vulnerability, the then UK Government introduced the ODW visa which offered some protection to migrant domestic workers. This was in place until April 2012.
The visa recognised their status as workers with access to protections under UK employment law, the right to apply to renew their visa if in full time employment as a domestic worker in a private household and, importantly the right to change employer.
On the 6th April 2012, the current Government made significant changes to the ODW visa, effectively withdrawing all rights and protections from migrant domestic workers in the UK and marking a significant departure from the important safeguards provided by the visa.
The motive for the new visa appears to be the Government’s aim to reduce migration to the UK from outside the EU. Migrant domestic workers who are allowed to apply to renew their visa do not fit well with the current immigration policy. However the Government is also not keen to dissuade wealthy employers visiting the UK from coming by preventing them from bringing their domestic staff.
The result is the current visa which allows the employer to bring a worker who in practise has no way to challenge abuse. In this way the new migrant domestic worker visa actually facilitates trafficking.
Please write to your MP asking them to raise your concerns around the new migrant domestic worker visa and its implications for this vulnerable group of workers. Kalayaan would be grateful to see a copy of any responses you receive.
Kalayaan is a very small organisation and most of our time is spent giving direct advice, support and assistance to migrant domestic workers . If you need more information go to www.kalayaan.org.uk