Elvira is from the Philippines. In order to support her family in the Philippines, Elvira worked for a family in Qatar and was brought to the UK by her employers. Elvira was exploited and abused by her employers. The Filipino Domestic Workers Association in the UK, thankfully helped Elvira once she fled her employer.

Focus on Policy

What is the government’s policy Modern Slavery?

Modern slavery is a problem rife in the UK. Official figures put the number at 13,000 people living as slaves in Britain, however the number could be much higher – as slavery is hidden from view. Many overseas domestic workers, who are more likely to be women, have been subject to physical abuse, exploitation, sexual harassment and modern day slavery while working in the UK.

The Modern Slavery Bill Act of 2015 lays out the latest policy to address and combat slavery in the UK. The act issues guidance on identifying and supporting victims of slavery and penalties for abusers. However domestic workers continue to face abuse and modern slavery is on the rise in the UK.

The government tries to combat modern slavery in three ways: 1) Enhancing law enforcement to catch abusers, 2) Improving the protection and support for victims and 3) Corporate regulations to monitor businesses and ensure they are aware of their workers rights. However the revised Overseas Domestic Worker Tied Visa system has made many domestic workers more vulnerable to abuse and has trapped many of them in domestic slavery.

Overseas Domestic Workers Tied Visas

In 2012, the UK government introduced the overseas domestic worker ‘tied visa’ system. Tied Visa Law means that migrant domestic workers are tied to their employers through their visa to work in the UK, therefore they will be deported if they try to leave their employer.

This is designed to prevent workers from switching jobs to stay in the UK. However this system has come under a lot of scrutiny, as many domestic workers are easily exploited, abused and subject to modern slavery under this system. Yet the government has refused to end or reform the policy.

Roughly 15,000 – 17,000 overseas domestic worker visas are issued every year in the UK. These domestic workers often work as live-in nannies, cleaners, cooks and chauffeurs for wealthier families. Little is done to check up on the conditions of these workers as private household employment is unregulated. The previous system allowed domestic workers to change their employer once they were settled in the UK, allowing them to flee their employers more easily if they were abused, without breaching immigration laws and facing deportation.

Levels of abuse reported to Kalayaan, an organisation that supports migrant domestic workers, found that the new visa system for domestic workers worsened the situation for domestic workers. Domestic workers on tied visas reported higher levels of abuse, including physical abuse and they were less likely to be paid at all. Read their research briefing here http://www.kalayaan.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Kalayaan-3-year-briefing.pdf 

What is the issue with this approach?

While Britain is keen to present itself a leader against slavery, domestic workers have been subjected to exploitation, abuse and slavery for far too long in the UK and the tied visa system has failed thousands of overseas domestic workers, making them more vulnerable to abuse. Many human rights organisations have highlighted the abuse domestic workers face when working overseas. Domestic workers are more likely to put up with abuse and exploitation from their employers in order to support their families back home to prevent deportation, often because of the difficult situations facing their families in their home countries, such as poverty. It is also extremely difficult for these workers to come forward about their cases. Those who do escape their employers become undocumented. The tied visa system strengthens employers and leaves them in charge of workers immigration status, visa, job and the knowledge of their rights.

The visa issuing process outlines that domestic workers should be informed of their rights in the UK. However many employers are forcing their staff to sign visa papers without being properly informed. Some workers were unaware that their visa was tied to their employer until they managed to escape their employer.

There was a call to amend the tied visa system in March 2015, which called to allow domestic workers to be able to change their jobs when in the UK, however it was rejected by the House of Commons. The government must do more to help migrant domestic workers and ratify ILO Convention 189 for Decent Work for Domestic Workers. There are also a number of other recommendations that Kalayaan recommend including obliging employers to issues payslips, and pay domestic workers into a bank account in their name. See here for their other recommendations http://www.kalayaan.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Kalayaan-3-year-briefing.pdf

Organisations that support domestic workers

Alongside Kalayaan as previously mentioned, the Filipino Domestic Workers Association (FDWA) provides much needed help and support to domestic workers in the UK. They help survivors of trafficking and exploitation, and those with abusive employers. They urge domestic workers who are experiencing this kind of abuse, or any problems with their employer to get in touch with them; similarly if anyone knows a domestic worker in this situation, they should also get in touch.

They too also urge the UK government to sign the International Labor Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention. For more information on the importance of the ILO convention, read this.

FDWA website http://fdwa.co.uk