Kalayaan’s campaign and policy work is focused on reinstating the basic rights of migrant domestic workers which were removed in April 2012, tying domestic workers who have entered since this date to their employers. This makes it impossible in practise for migrant domestic workers to assert any rights as, without the right to resign or to leave their employment, they have no bargaining power at all in what is already a vastly unequal employment relationship.

Abuse reported to Kalayaan by workers who have registered with us since April 2012 make it clear that the removal of the rights to change employer not only destroys the chances of migrant domestic workers to access justice once they have escaped abuse. The fact that workers are tied to their employer with no option to leave also results in a worsening of treatment in employment, particularly in restrictions of freedoms. A comparison of the 402 new workers who registered with Kalayaan in the two years since the tied visa was introduced show that those tied to their employers (120 of the 402) report consistently worse treatment that those who had entered the UK prior to April 2012 and so had the right to leave and seek alternative employment should they chose to do so;

  • Reports of physical abuse by those tied to their employers was double that of those not tied (16% and 8%)
  • 71% of the workers tied to their employers reported not being allowed out of the house unsupervised compared with 43% not tied
  • 65% of tied workers reported not having their own room or any private space within the house where they lived and worked, often sleeping in the floor of the children’s room or in the kitchen or lounge. This was reported by 34% of those who were not tied
  • 66% of tied visa workers reported being on call to work any time of day, compared to 40% of those not tied.
  • 78% of tied visa workers reported having their passports kept from them by their employers compared to 48% of those who weren’t tied.
  • 60% of tied visa workers reported pay of less than £50/week with 29% of these workers reporting no pay at all in comparison to 36% and 10% of those who were not tied.
  • Kalayaan staff internally assessed 69% of those who registered with us during these two years having entered tied to their employers as potentially trafficking compared to 26% of those who were not tied (please note that an internal assessment as trafficked does not automatically entail a referral into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), (this depends on the individual worker giving informed consent for any such referral).

While reported treatment of all migrant domestic workers is shockingly abusive the original migrant domestic workers visa (formally known as the Overseas Domestic Worker visa) was recognised to provide important protections. It was introduced in 1998 in response to the well documented abuse of migrant domestic workers who are made particularly dependant on their employer due to working and living in their private house and relying on the employer for information about the UK, their visa status and their employment. The original ODW visa recognised migrant domestic workers as workers, permitted them to change employer to another full time job as a domestic worker in one private household and after meeting the necessary requirements (most recently 5 years legal residence plus ESOL qualifications, to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain).

The original ODW visa was recognised as an example of good practise and allowed the worker to escape abuse without damaging their immigration status, to find a new job and to move on. As workers remained legal it was possible for them to report serious abuse to the police and to take Employment Tribunal claims for unpaid wages and other breaches of labour law. The visa allowed no recourse to public funds and workers renewed their visas annually, evidencing full time employment as a domestic worker. Not only was this of benefit to the public purse as workers supported themselves and contributed to the economy it also provided an annual opportunity for the Government to check conditions of employment should it wish to do so.

Click here to see video ‘No to Slavery: Restore the rights of migrant domestic workers’.


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