Majority of migrant domestic workers face abuse

// 2 July 2008

NBL.gifOxfam and Kalayaan today reveal that abuse of migrant domestic workers is mind-bogglingly widespread. The majority of these workers are women from developing countries, living in conditions close to slavery:

Migrant domestic workers have the legal status of workers in the UK – and are entitled to rights such as the minimum wage, time off, etc. Yet, of more than 300 workers registered with Kalayaan in 2006, 43% of workers reported not being given their own bed, 41% were not given regular meals, 70% were given no time off, 61% were not allowed out of the house without their employer’s permission. In addition, 10% reported sexual abuse, 26% physical abuse and 72% psychological abuse at the hands of their employers. Many workers were paid as little as 50p an hour, were made to work up to 16 hours a day, and were on constant call to their employers.

Yes, 61% are not allowed out of the house without their employer’s permission. 80% of the domestic workers registered with Kalayaan, an organisation which provides services for migrant domestic workers, are women.

From the BBC story:

One was blinded in one eye after her employer threw hot tea at her, and ran away after her employer’s husband attempted to rape her.

Another migrant domestic worker, who was regularly beaten for three years, said staff like her were “treated like slaves”.

One basic way of helping workers to escape these conditions is to allow them to change job while in the UK, so that they are not forced to chose between staying in abusive conditions or losing their right to stay and work in this country. The government had planned to scrap the domestic worker visa programme that provided this protection, but has agreed to keep it in place for another two years. From Kalayaan’s briefing document:

The British government proposes to eliminate the domestic worker visa as part of wide ranging reforms to the immigration system. Under these proposals, domestic

workers will enter the UK as ‘domestic assistants’ on a modified business visitor visa. They will only be allowed to remain in the UK for six months and will be unable to change employer. Oxfam, Kalayaan, and many others feel that this change would return domestic workers to the levels of abuse and exploitation experienced before 1998:

  • Being unable to change employers will result in many more cases of abuse and exploitation: employers will know that domestic workers are not able to leave their jobs without becoming ‘illegal’ in the UK, however badly they are treated.
  • MDWs will not have the legal status of workers, so they will not have the right to the national minimum wage or limits on the number of hours worked etc. Employers will be able to keep their workers in conditions close to slavery.
  • Abolishing the domestic worker visa will increase the risk of human trafficking: it will allow unscrupulous employers to recruit MDWs in poor countries overseas by promising them jobs in the UK, and then allow them to put the workers into what will be effectively forced labour. This will undermine government efforts to protect victims of trafficking under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

As usual, one of the things you can do is write to your MP to keep them informed of the situation, so they can push for this visa to be retained and also for the immigration system in general to be sensitive to the potential for human rights abuses. However the organisation is also seeking volunteer English teachers and advocacy support workers.

Comments From You

Anne Onne // Posted 2 July 2008 at 12:02 pm

It’s depressing, but this really doesn’t surprise me. Migrants are by definition in a difficult position being stuck in a foreign country. But with the current climate around immigrants, migrant workers are left even more exposed to this kind of abuse.

Renee // Posted 3 July 2008 at 1:16 am

Unfortunately the issue with migrant worker abuse is systemic throughout all western countries. I don’t think that this will truly end until we stop the conditions that force women to choose to leave their homes and work in foreign countries. I do believe by focusing on creating fair trade agreements with so-called third world countries we can improve the lives of millions of women thus reducing the chances of abuse.

Jess McCabe // Posted 3 July 2008 at 9:10 am

I agree, Renee – it’s just that’s a long, long term project, involving an uphill struggle against numerous vested interests to redesign the entire global economy. So I think measures which protect women once they have made that choice, however imperfect, are really important for the short term.

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