Migrant domestic workers and the Modern Slavery Bill
The Modern Slavery Bill is currently passing through UK Parliament and, having been through the House of Commons, is now in the Lords. While many see the Bill as broadly positive, on the specific issue of migrant domestic workers, it contains insufficient measures to protect victims or prevent abuse and exploitation. We hope that will be addressed in the Lords – the relevant amendment was only narrowly lost in the Commons.
One glaring omission in the Bill is any attempt to address the currently appalling situation for migrant domestic workers. In April 2012 a change in the immigration rules prohibited migrant domestic workers entering the UK from leaving their employer. All available evidence condemns the tying or bonding of this particularly vulnerable group of workers and agrees that this has facilitated their exploitation and abuse, including trafficking.
Labour has committed to reinstate the rights of migrant domestic workers. David Hanson MP (Shadow Immigration Minister) tabled a clause with the aim of amending the Bill to protect migrant domestic workers at both Public Bill Committee and Report Stage.
The amendment received significant support at Committee stage. The vote was tied and was defeated only by the casting vote of the Chair. It was again defeated in the Commons at Report stage in spite of both Sarah Teather MP (Liberal Democrat) and John Randall MP (former Conservative Deputy Chief Whip) publically speaking in favour the amendment and committing their votes.
The report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill describes the current tied Overseas Domestic Worker (ODW) visa as having ‘unintentionally strengthened the hand of the slave master against the victim of slavery’ and calls for an urgent reversal of the 2012 changes. The Joint Committee on Human Rights have said in their report on the Bill that they regard ‘the removal of the right of an Overseas Domestic Worker to change employer as a backward step in the protection of migrant domestic workers.. and recommend that the Bill be amended to reverse the relevant changes to the Immigration rules and to reinstate the pre 2012 protections in the Bill’.
In the first two years since the tied visa was implemented Kalayaan registered 402 new migrant domestic workers. 120 of these workers were tied to their employers. It is noticeable that those who entered on a visa which tied them to their employers (the tied or the diplomatic domestic worker visa) reported worse conditions and less freedom.
• Almost three quarters of tied visa holders reported never being allowed out of the house unsupervised (71%), compared to under half on the original visa (43%).
• 65% of tied MDWs didn’t have their own rooms, so shared with the children or slept in the kitchen or lounge, compared with 34% of those not tied.
• 60% of those on the tied visa reported pay of less than £50 a week, compared with 36% on the original visa.
The tied ODW visa is morally unjustifiable. It is also clear that its very existence undermines the intentions of the Modern Slavery Bill and Britain’s commitment to combat slavery. The Bill must address this. There is still time, as the Bill passes through the Lords, for it to be amended to provide meaningful protections to migrant domestic workers in the UK, but without such an amendment it won’t.