Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Government punishes domestic migrant workers to reward bad employers

The decision of the government to end the overseas domestic worker visa opens up the opportunity for bad employers to abuse migrant workers.

In many ways the move is so typical of this government, removing rights for some of the worst paid and badly treated workers in the country, all in the name of its ill thought out immigration policy, which appears totally predicated on the need to reduce migrant numbers.

The domestic workers visa had been in operation since 1998, giving workers the possibility to change employers and extend their visas. However, this all ended on 6 April when the domestic worker visa was abandoned on the basis the need to cut net migration. There were 15,745 domestic worker visas issued in 2012, similar to the number for previous years.

The new arrangements see a tied visa introduced which has a maximum duration of six months and ties the worker to the one employer, who brought them to the UK. “It is a terrible reflection on this government to withdraw worker’s rights and protection from what is one of the most vulnerable group of workers.  After all, if you live in the household of your employer you are totally in their control.  Many are literally locked in the house when the employer goes out - and domestic workers in the private household are not included in Health and Safety legislation, nor in the Race Relations Act!” said Sister Margaret Healy, co-founder of the domestic worker campaigning organisations Kalayaan and Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW).

So the net effect of the changes has been to benefit exploitative employers. Already, statistics gathered by Kalayaan confirm the worsening situation under the new tied visa system.

Some 62 per cent on the tied visa are paid nothing at all compared to 14 per cent under the previous system.  All workers on the tied visa were paid less than £100 a week compared to 60 per cent on the original visa

Sister Healy argues there was no justification for withdrawing the visa. “It has not been abused, the Home Office knows exactly where every domestic worker lives and works because they have to supply this information yearly when they renew their visa.  Just when the International Labour Organisation (ILO - Convention 189) is promoting rights and protections for domestic workers world-wide the UK government withdraws all rights and protections - it is shameful,” said Sister Healy.

It is difficult to make any sense of this latest policy from the Coalition Government. The alleged intention to help cut migration seems unlikely, given that the removal of protections makes it far more likely that desperate workers will leave abusive employment and join the reservoir of undocumented workers. They will be un-trackable for government in this environment and the exchequer will lose the tax and national insurance that previously the workers paid when legitimately employed.

This ridiculous policy benefits no one other than exploitative employers. It can only be hoped that the government listens to the argument of the likes of Kalayaan, J4 DW and Unite who are all calling for restoration of the overseas domestic workers visa with immediate effect.

*For more information contact Kate Roberts, Community Advocate at Kalayaan – tel. 0207 243 2942 or

see also:
New Internationalist - 2/7/2013 -
Tablet - 9/6/2013
Universe - 2/6/2013

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