New migrant domestic worker rules will facilitate slavery – Campaigners

New rules announced by Home Secretary Theresa May for domestic workers will facilitate slavery and trafficking, say human rights charities Kalayaan and Anti-Slavery International.

Ms. May announced that from 6th April 2012, private servants working for diplomats will continue to be able to come to the UK under Tier 5 (Temporary worker – International agreement), if sponsored by the diplomatic mission.

But the mission will need to add a 'sponsor note' to the certificate of sponsorship assigned to a private servant, giving the name of the diplomat for whom the private servant will work.

The private servant will only be able to work for this diplomat. They will not be able to change to work for another diplomat in the mission, and must leave the UK when the diplomat does (or earlier). The private servant will be able to stay for a maximum of five years.

The UK Border Agency will also introduce a pre-entry requirement: the private servant and the diplomat for whom they will work will be required to agree and sign written terms and conditions of employment (covering issues such as hours of work, salary and time off). This document must be completed before the private servant can be sponsored, and must be included with their visa application.

Campaigners have pointed out that migrant domestic workers are vulnerable to horrific abuse and exploitation as has come to light in a number of recent high profile cases in the criminal courts.

Of the 326 individuals who registered with Kalayaan in 2011, 54% experienced psychological abuse, 18% physical and 7% sexual abuse.  Exploitation was also rife, with 76% not allowed a day off, 53% working 16 hours-a-day and 60% paid under £50 per week.

Campaigners point that the changes would mean that any domestic workers able to escape abuse will immediately lose their right to reside in the UK, therefore greatly reduce the likelihood that they would seek help from the authorities for fear of being deported. This policy would lead to the victims becoming ‘illegal’ and perpetrators going unpunished.

Campaigners believe that the removal of the legal right to escape an abusive situation would result in domestic workers, desperate to earn money for the survival of themselves and their families, to go underground and create an underclass of unprotected and undocumented workers not protected under UK labour laws.

Jenny Moss, Community Advocate from Kalayaan, a London based organisation that supports migrant domestic workers, said: “The decision to remove the right to change employer, and therefore remove an important protection from abuse, turns back the clock 15 years to the days when domestic workers were deported for experiencing abuse. This decision makes no sense, its effects are entirely disproportionate to its aims and runs counter to Prime Minister David Cameron’s commitment to fighting slavery, made on Anti-Slavery Day in October last year.”

Before the right to change employer was introduced, abuse was even higher with, with 39% of domestic workers reporting physical abuse, 12% reporting sexual abuse, 89% having no day off and 100% reporting having worked an average of 17 hours-a-day.

Audrey Guichon, Domestic Work Programme Co-ordinator, Anti-Slavery International, said: “By tying domestic workers to one employer the Government will effectively be licensing slavery, allowing employers to bring workers to the UK without providing those same workers any way of challenging or escaping abuse if it occurs. These proposed changes would give unscrupulous bosses the power to threaten workers with deportation if they do not comply with whatever they demand.”

Guichon said that UK’s new way of treating domestic workers will be similar to the kafala system in the Middle East, “where the lack of right to change employer without losing the right to residency has led to widespread abuse and high levels of domestic worker suicide.”

In June 2011, the UK government was one of the eight countries, including Sudan, which did not vote in favour of a new international convention that would help protect domestic workers from abuse and slavery.

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