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23 March 2016

a new opportunity to end slavery of domestic workers in the UK

Europe Programme and Advocacy Co-ordinator Klara Skrivankova on the opportunity to end exploitation of overseas domestic workers in the UK.

Protect domestic workers

The debate about protection of domestic workers from slavery in the UK has reached a critical point.

Since 2012, when the Government abolished the right of overseas domestic workers to change their employer and thus removed a crucial protection that enabled them to safely leave an abusive situation, campaigners and many politicians questioned the logic behind the change.

Government cited the need for “rationalisation of immigration regulations” and prevention of abuse of the visa by the workers to settle in Britain as the main reasons for the change, without presenting conclusive evidence of such abuse happening.

Steady flow of evidence has since been presented to the Government showing that the original visa was an important protection for domestic workers. Countless horrific stories of abuse and evidence of increased exploitation endured by domestic workers on tied visas has made no difference to changing the Government’s position.

The recent passing of the Modern Slavery Act presented an opportunity to re- introduce some protections. The parliamentary Modern Slavery Bill evidence review found that without these protections, the UK de facto legalised the enslavement of overseas domestic workers.

In February 2015, the House of Lords voted in an amendment re-introducing protections for domestic workers, but Government reverted the changes back and voted in an own alternative amendment.

However, the pressure on the Government led to an independent review of the tied visa to be commissioned by the Government and the Home Office Minister committing in a parliamentary debate to implement the review’s recommendations. Consequently, James Ewins QC was tasked with the review and made very clear recommendations: allow the workers to change employers AND permit them to extend their visas.

However, the Government decided to implement the recommendations selectively, and to only allow for the change of employers within the six months of the original visa. This makes it practically meaningless as it is virtually impossible to find an alternative employer on such a short term visa. 

However, these developments show that sustained pressure and unequivocal evidence made SOME change possible.

The Immigration Bill currently before the Parliament is a crucial opportunity to finally ensure that domestic workers in the UK are protected from slavery. Last week, the House of Lords voted in an amendment that gives effect to the main recommendations of the Ewins review.

The Bill will soon be back in the House of Commons, where as it stands, the amendment is likely to be overturned.

However, unlike when the Modern Slavery Act was before the Parliament, we now have unequivocal conclusions of the independent review and a public commitment by the Home Office Minister  Karen Bradley to implement the review recommendations.

The public calls on the Government to untie the domestic workers from their employers has also grown: a petition to the Home Office by our friends from Walk Free, Kalayaan, and Justice for Domestic Workers gathered over 60k signatures (delivery this Thursday, you can still take action, plus we would love to see you at the petition delivery demo outside the Home Office on Thursday 23 March at 1pm!).

And the recent turmoil in the Conservative party suggests  that some MPs may not vote in line with the Government.

This is why we are stepping up our campaign again and we need our supporters to step it up too.

Please ask your MP to vote with their conscience to stop slavery of domestic workers in the UK. Email them, tweet at them, send them a letter, whatever you feel is best. The easiest ways is to follow our instructions about the ways to do it.

Tell parliamentarians that this vote is about ending slavery, not about party politics. 

Follow Klara on Twitter: @klaraskriv