Today, Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW) are protesting outside the empty House of Lords – Sunday is the only day most domestic workers have off - about Government plans to reduce the number of migrant domestic workers entering the UK every year, and to reduce their rights to escape abuse and exploitation. Backed by the union they belong to, Unite, and by the migrant domestic workers’ charity Kalayaan, J4DW want the plans abandoned, and the ILO Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers – adopted this summer – to be implemented in the UK. I’ll be at their protest to show the TUC’s support for their cause.
We’ve been here before: in 1998 when the new Labour Government gave migrant domestic workers the right to leave their abusive and exploitative employers without being deported; and just three years ago, when Labour introduced the new Point-Based System of immigration which could have taken that right away. Now the Government is again proposing to allow what amounts to forced labour: making it impossible in practice for domestic workers to leave their boss, whatever the provocation. Kalayaan and J4DW have documented cases of overwork, lack of pay, and much, much worse - mental and physical cruelty and sexual harassment and assualt.
There’s not much in this for the Government: although 15,000 domestic workers enter the country each year with their employers, the vast majority don’t stay long. Just under a thousand renew their visa each year, so reducing the number won’t take the Government very far in its objective of reducing net migration to under 100,000 a year. But their current rights are an anomaly in a migration system that the Government wants to make neat and tidy, and Ministers seem to think they can get away with this change relatively easily. They’re banking on no one speaking up for the migrant domestic workers – almost all women, of course, and mostly from poor countries like the Philippines. We’ve got to prove them wrong.
The Government’s consultation closes on 9 September, and the TUC, like others, will be submitting a response opposing the changes for migrant domestic workers. We’ll make the case that among diplomats’ domestic workers – who don’t have the right to change jobs – one in 25 have been found to be little more than slaves. If the change goes through, all migrant domestic workers will face the same predicament. We want the Government to find out that they can’t pick on migrant domestic workers.
We’ll be backing Marissa Begonia, a remarkable woman who was the TUC delegate on the ILO committee that drafted the Domestic Workers Convention. Her verdict on the government’s plans?
“ Where are we heading if the minimal protection we have is about to be removed, back to the century of slavery? The domestic worker visa has been our escape route from abusive employers and enabled us to rebuild our lives from this exploitative situation. We urge the government to uhold the honour and dignity of the United Kingdom and improve the current living and working conditions of domestic workers. The more vulnerable the worker is, the more protection they need.”