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March 18, 2015

The Modern Slavery Bill has left migrant domestic workers open to abuse

17th March 2015
Shamefully, MPs in the House of Commons have voted against the protections against slavery for migrant domestic workers. These basic protections, which allowed migrant domestic workers in the UK to change employer and to apply to renew their visa, had been voted into the Modern Slavery Bill by the House of Lords on the 25th February.

The Government opposed the amendment, arguing that by allowing migrant domestic workers to change employer, workers may not go forward to the police and their employers may escape prosecution.

This makes no sense and is morally abhorrent. It also won’t work.

The Modern Slavery Bill is proposing to keep workers we know to be vulnerable to extreme abuses including trafficking and slavery tied to their employers on a visa which has been found to facilitate their abuse in order that these same workers will then before forced to go to the authorities if they are to get any form of protection. In the almost three years during which migrant domestic workers have been tied to their employers, fewer workers known to Kalayaan have gone to the authorities, not more, because they are too scared. They have been made undocumented and criminalised by the act of escaping criminal abuse committed against them. The Government’s amendment instead proposes that those migrant domestic workers who are Conclusively recognised as trafficked through the Government’s identification system may get a six month visa to work as a domestic worker. This will not change the current situation, whereby migrant domestic workers feel unsafe to challenge or to leave abuse, as it offers no protection to any workers until they have gone to the authorities. The worker, terrified, and threatened, in escaping abuse is expected to take a leap of faith. These workers are not coming forward now and we cannot see what the Government’s amendment offers which would change this.

Of the 214 workers who Kalayaan internally identified as trafficked since April 2012 only 63 have consented to a referral into the NRM. In the same time period only 25 workers consented to us supporting them to go to the police. There remains no upheld conviction for trafficking an adult to the UK for domestic servitude. The only conviction for slavery took place prior to migrant domestic workers being tied to their employers. While domestic workers remain insecure and criminalised they are not in a position to think about justice.