UK accused of failing to protect domestic workers | Sunday Observer

UK accused of failing to protect domestic workers

Domestic workers dressed as suffragettes demand the right to be able to change employers once in the UK at a protest in London in 2015. The change was made but campaigners claim it has not been properly implemented.  Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA
Domestic workers dressed as suffragettes demand the right to be able to change employers once in the UK at a protest in London in 2015. The change was made but campaigners claim it has not been properly implemented. Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA
  • Campaigners warn foreign workers continue to suffer abuse and exploitation in UK households after failure of safeguards designed to protect them

Oct 19: Campaigners have warned that thousands of foreign domestic workers remain enslaved behind the closed doors of some of Britain’s wealthiest neighbourhoods after the government failed to implement safeguards designed to protect them from abusive and exploitative employers.

In the past year, the Home Office has issued 18,950 visas under its domestic workers in private households scheme, which allows foreign families to bring domestic staff with them when staying in the UK.

Changes made by the Home Office last year allowed overseas domestic workers to switch employers within the six-month term of their visa. The move followed a damning review of the scheme that concluded the government was exposing thousands of women brought to the UK by wealthy Gulf families to conditions of slavery, trafficking and abuse.

Yet, according to data provided by Kalayaan, the UK’s leading organisation for domestic workers, the changes have made no difference to the levels of abuse and domestic servitude reported to them by women who have successfully escaped their workplaces.

Kalayaan said that, among the women issued a visa under the amended scheme who had sought their help over the past year, most remained unaware of their right to change employers.

Kalayaan’s data showed that 85% of domestic workers under the amended visa scheme reported psychological abuse. In addition, 63% said they had no access to regular food and 81% claimed they were not allowed out of the house; 83% said their employer took their passport, while 33% said they received no wages at all.

“In the last year we have seen the highest number of women on record coming to us who we consider to qualify as victims of trafficking,” said Avril Sharp, policy and casework officer at Kalayaan.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable that a year later even these small concessions have not been implemented. The human cost is evident, as we are seeing the same levels of abuse reported to us by women who have suffered for months at the hands of their employers before managing to escape, but who had no idea that they now had the right to change employment or seek help.”

Sharp acknowledged that the number of women who reported abuse to Kalayaan – 82 in the past year – was small in comparison with the thousands of visas being issued.

“We are one NGO, and the women coming to us are the very few that have managed to escape and find members of their community who direct them to our door,” she said. “[But] the review last year was very clear about the potential scale of the abuse happening in private houses and hotels across the country. Even one woman being abused on this visa scheme is enough to argue that adequate protections need to be put in place.”

Campaigners are also calling for the Home Office to implement promised measures, including orientation meetings designed to inform overseas domestic workers of their rights when they first arrive in the UK, and welfare visits to their places of employment.

“If you give rights to workers you’ve got to make sure they know what they are,” said Sharp.

The government has argued that restrictions to the domestic worker visa are designed to discourage workers from staying in the UK.

“We will not tolerate modern slavery, abuse of workers or the criminals who wish to exploit the vulnerable. That is why we have taken world leading action through the Modern Slavery Act,” said a Home Office spokesperson.

“We have removed the overseas domestic worker visa tie and will be introducing additional reforms to ensure that workers are better protected from abuse and slavery. These new measures will include information sessions for overseas domestic workers so that they are aware of their rights as workers in the UK.”

The Home Office also said that immigration rules have already been changed to allow domestic workers confirmed as victims of slavery to apply for a two-year domestic work visa.

Yet Anti-Slavery International said the government’s treatment of overseas domestic workers jarred with claims that the UK has become a world leader in the fight against modern slavery.

- Theguardian 

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