Migrant domestic workers seriously abused in UK, new report reveals

Human Rights Watch has asked the UK government to restore the right for migrant domestic workers to change employer.

A new report by Human Rights Watch shows that migrant domestic workers accompanying their employers to the UK are being subjected to serious abuses including forced labour.

The report accuses the government of doing far too little to protect vulnerable workers.

It also points out that the recent changes to UK immigration rules make it harder for workers to flee abuse.

“It’s scandalous that in modern Britain migrant domestic workers are subject to such appalling abuses,” said Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But instead of protecting these workers, the system makes it harder for them escape.”

The 58-page report, “Hidden Away: Abuses against Migrant Domestic Workers in the UK,” documents the confiscation of passports, confinement to the home, physical and psychological abuse, extremely long working hours with no rest days, and very low wages or non-payment of wages.

According to the report, the UK government has failed to live up to its obligations under international law to protect migrant domestic workers and enable them to access justice if they are mistreated.

In April 2012, the UK abolished the right of migrant domestic workers to change employer once they are in the UK, against the recommendations of parliament, nongovernmental organizations, and UN experts. Under the terms of the new ‘tied visa,’ overseas domestic workers cannot legally leave their employer and find new work, meaning those abused can become trapped.

“Workers who are mistreated now face a horrendous choice: either endure the terrible abuse, or escape and become undocumented migrants, where of course they are much more vulnerable to further abuse and exploitation,” said Leghtas. “It’s abhorrent that anyone should be tied into abuse in this way.”

Since domestic helpers work in private households, much of the abuse takes place behind closed doors.

Some domestic workers told Human Rights Watch of working up to 18 hours per day for weeks on end without breaks. Some revealed that they were not being fed properly and surviving off leftovers. Other cases of abuse include being forbidden from possessing a mobile phone or contacting their own families, and being unable to ever leave their employers’ homes unaccompanied.

Some were paid wages as little as £100 per month and sometimes even these meagre salaries were withheld.

“The UK government is failing in its duty to protect migrant domestic workers, who all too often are victims of horrific hidden abuse,” Leghtas said. “If it’s serious about ending what it calls modern day slavery, the government should recognize just how vulnerable these workers are and give them the protection they deserve.”

Human Rights Watch has urged the government to ensure appropriate protections for migrant domestic workers, including the right to change employer. Restoring this right is vital to help combat abuse against this very vulnerable group of workers, Human Rights Watch said.

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