On Sunday 15th June, Justice 4 Domestic workers, together with supporters met in front to Parliament in Westminster to call for the Re-instatement of the Overseas Domestic Worker visa and for the UK to ratify and implement the Domestic Workers’ Convention; IL0 C189, recognising domestic workers as workers.
The report found that:
‘In the case of the domestic worker’s visa, policy changes have unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery. 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’.
The 6 April 2014 marked two years since the migrant domestic workers, entering the UK on the Overseas Domestic Worker visa, became tied to their employers. Since this time Kalayaan has registered 402 new workers. 120 of these were tied to their employers as they entered on either the tied ODW visa or on the diplomatic domestic worker visa.
A comparison of the reports of abuse made to Kalayaan by workers who are tied to their employers and those who are not (who entered prior to 2012 yet registered at Kalayaan since this time) demonstrate clearly that, while all migrant domestic workers remain vulnerable to abuse, those who are tied to their employers have worse conditions and less freedom:
- Tied workers are twice as likely to report having being physically abused as those who were not tied (16% and 8%)
- 65% of those on the tied visa didn’t have their own rooms, so had no privacy, often sleeping in the kitchen or lounge or sharing with the children, compared to 34% of those not tied
- 78% of tied workers had their passport kept from them, compared with 48% of those not tied
- Kalayaan staff assessed more than double (69%) of those tied as trafficked, in contrast with 26% of those who were not tied.
You can read our briefing ‘Still enslaved: The migrant domestic workers who are trapped by the immigration rules’.
The removal of the basic rights of migrant domestic workers and the introduction of a visa which ‘ties’ them to their employer has enslaved migrant domestic workers. If they flee abuse and exploitation, their tied status means they have no redress.
On 1st April Unite, J4DW and Kalayaan presented this petition with 1,000 signatures to number 10 Downing Street to tell the prime minister that we do not need to live again the horrifying abuse of the past.
We want to collect 1,000 more signatures for Monday 16th June so please consider signing up and circulating.
Chris Bryant MP, the former Shadow Home Office minister, explained at a fringe meeting on Sunday 22nd September 2013 how the changes to the visa which were introduced in April 2012 left migrant domestic workers increasingly vulnerable to exploitation as they are ‘completely tied to their employers’. The party spokesperson on immigration committed that Labour would reintroduce the original overseas domestic worker visa to prevent this form of virtual slavery in Britain.
Kalayaan is delighted that the tied visa has been recognised for what it is; a route which facilitates abuse and exploitation. We applaud Chris Bryant MP for being prepared to take real action to prevent and address slavery and other abuses which take place in private home in the UK.
Kalayaan has concerns that while migrant domestic workers remain tied to their employers the Modern Slavery Bill will never have the effective witnesses it needs to secure criminal prosecutions.
Kalayaan considers the lack of additional support measures for victims of trafficking in the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, published on the 16 December 2013 to be a missed opportunity. In particular we had hoped for a parallel commitment to reinstate the original Overseas Domestic Worker visa, a system proven to allow some protections against the abuse of this particularly vulnerable group of migrants. We consider the Government’s defence that information leaflets are supposedly given to migrant domestic workers when they apply to enter the UK absurd: In our experience most migrant domestic workers do not receive this information and without rights which they can access in practise an information leaflet is no help anyway.
Domestic servitude remains both prevalent and hidden in the UK and evidence shows that measures introduced in April 2012 which tie migrant domestic workers to their employer, preventing them from leaving have both increased the abuse of migrant domestic workers while criminalising and driving the victims underground1. To date there has only been one successful prosecution for trafficking an adult for domestic servitude. As we submitted in our written and oral evidence to the Modern Slavery Bill Evidence Review, in order for migrant domestic workers to come forward and give evidence to allow for successful prosecutions they must be supported in law to do so. In contrast the current immigration rules play into the hands of their exploiters.
We are encouraged that the Report of the Modern Slavery Bill Evidence Review acknowledges the problems with the current tied visa and states that it exposes domestic workers to the risk of exploitation. However we believe that the recommendations to ‘consider the reinstatement of the right to change employer’ do not go far enough. The original visa was recognised internationally as best practise and should be reinstated in its entirely. In the meantime, while considerations are made and debated we are failing the victims.
Our warmest congratulations to Fiona Mactaggart, who has a long and firm commitment to protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers in the UK. Her report Service not Servitude argues strongly in favor of mantaining rights and protections for this particularly vulnerable group of workers and we were proud to have her sponsor a joint Kalayaan, J4DW and Unite event in March 2013 ‘Slavery by another name‘, which looked at the effects of the tied migrant domestic worker (or ODW) visa once year on.
We look forward to continuing to work closely with Fiona Mactaggart to ensure that protections for migrant domestic workers in the UK are reinstated.
Kalayaan has produced a briefing showing the dire impacts of tying domestic workers to their employers. Findings from reports made by workers to Kalayaan over the last year make it clear that treatment has worsened for those on the tied visa and that those who do escape are being driven underground.
These findings make it more imperative than ever that the rights contained within the original migrant domestic worker visa are reinstated.
Kalayaan was delighted with the opportunity to meet the Prime Minster and to raise with him directly the ways in which the tied migrant domestic worker visa both facilitates, and prevents escape from, slavery.
On the 22nd April 2013 the Prime Minster opened the Human Trafficking Foundation‘s Hidden Slavery Exhibition in the House of Commons. The exhibition featured two migrant domestic workers who had escaped slavery. One was on the original migrant domestic worker visa and so had been able to move on with her life. The second was on the tied visa and still underground, in limbo and unable to access justice.
The 6th April 2013 marks the first anniversary of the removal of basic rights protections from migrant domestic workers including the vital right to change employers allowing workers to escape abuse. We are beginning to see the effects of these changes with workers who entered on the new visa being criminalised and driven underground to further exploitation.