Friday, 25 February 2011

A Migrant Domestic Worker's experience in the UK - Analyn from the Philippines

©Pete Pattisson                                             
Analyn is 52 and comes from the Philippines. She is separated from her husband and is looking after her two sons, aged 17 and 27, who still live in the Philippines. Her younger son is still in school and wants to go to university. Her elder son is unmarried and works as a waiter, earning too little to provide for himself and his brother.

She first left the Philippines in 1986 to be a domestic worker in Hong Kong. But she left after six months because her employer sexually abused her. In 1993, she decided to migrate again because her then husband was not earning enough as a bus driver to provide for the family.

She found a wealthy and powerful employer in Saudi Arabia thanks to an agency. She was only sleeping three to four hours a night and being paid just US$300 a month, but she stayed, as it allowed her to send some money home to pay for the everyday necessities of her family: food, rent, and education for her sons.

The problems started when she was assigned as a nanny to the granddaughter of her original boss. The previous nanny had ended up in prison because of allegations made by the child that she had hit her. When the family moved to the UK, Analyn grew increasingly scared as the child started to tell lies to the family, claiming that Analyn had beaten her and shouted at her. Her employers rapidly became more abusive, shouting racist insults and threatening her. Analyn became so scared for her safety she decided to flee.

She is now living in London with a fellow domestic worker whom she met on the street. She is looking for another job. She says she will never go back to Saudi Arabia again, as she knows her former employer is powerful and would have her killed. In the UK she has peace of mind, knowing that she is protected by the law.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

A domestic worker's dilemma - forced into finding a new job

This morning I saw a different lady in an advice session. She considers her job to be okay, in spite of very long hours, for which she is paid below the National Minimum Wage. However she is very worried as her visa expires in a month and her employer seems very hesitant to supply the supporting evidence she needs in order to demonstrate to the Home Office that she is in full time employment. 

They have never said that they won’t provide the required papers but haven’t done so to date and she is becoming increasingly concerned as the expiry date for her visa gets nearer and nearer, and her negotiating power becomes weaker. 

She feels forced into looking for a new job but with so little time left on her visa she would be very lucky to find a job anywhere else, and for a new employer to support a visa renewal application in the first few days of her employment. Her case is unfortunately not unusual. We often find that employers really use the worker’s need for supporting evidence to the Home Office to threaten workers or to force them to accept working conditions which they would otherwise not choose to agree to.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Phone call (contd) - domestic worker escapes from her employer

The worker who has been phoning has finally plucked up the courage to escape. This was after several planned attempts which fell through as she always became too nervous. She arrived at our offices this afternoon, with a small bag. Luckily she knew where her employer kept her passport and was able to take it with her, and she has a valid domestic worker visa, so is able to work for someone else as long as she can find a full time post doing domestic work in one household.

As migrant domestic workers are prohibited from accessing public funds there is almost no housing available for people in ‘A’s situation who have escaped an employer. This means everytime a worker turns up at Kalayaan having run away we spend a lot of time phoning around trying to find somewhere to stay. Usually we are able to find another domestic worker who ‘lives out’ and is able to offer a space for a short while. This is far from ideal from anyone’s point of view but is usually all that is available.

After a few hours we found somewhere for A. Luckily, as she speaks almost no English, this was with another domestic worker who speaks her language and who thinks her employer may have a friend who wants to employer someone. This could all work out very well.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Phone call from a migrant domestic worker (contd)

One complication is that we cannot give her proper advice without knowing her immigration status. If she is on a regular domestic worker visa she will be able to leave her employer without breaching the immigration rules and find another job as a domestic worker in the UK. This should allow her to renew her visa. However if the employer has let her visa expire  she is undocumented and in the UK in breach of the immigration rules. If her employer is a diplomat and she is in the UK on a diplomatic domestic worker visa she is not allowed to change employers outside of her employers mission. We have had to advise her that if she is scared and is not being paid, of course she should leave. However there is a risk that she may have immigration problems upon doing so.
The other issue is that we have no accommodation at Kalayaan and as migrant domestic workers have ‘no recourse to public funds’ she cannot access any government housing. If she is formally identified as trafficked she may be able to access safe housing if there are spaces but this is likely to be outside of London and away from support. We will of course try to house her (usually with another domestic worker , which of course has issues of its own) but cannot make any guarantees. Virtually all shelters get their funding through housing benefit claims so unfortunately if you cannot access it you cannot access the shelters.
We spent some time trying combinations of the number she has left but cannot get through. We will just have to hope that she calls back. 

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Phone call from a migrant domestic worker

One message in particular was very concerning. It was from a MDW who spoke little English making it hard to understand her message. She has called before, asking for help, always in a whisper as she is worried her employer will overhear.

One problem is because of her limited English and the rushed nature of the phone calls we have been unable to take her correct phone number. In the past when she has phoned we have had someone in the centre who can speak her language. 

We have understood from these conversations that she has not been paid for months, desperately needs to send money to her children, is working 16 hour + days, is very, very scared of her employer, knows no one in the UK and does not have her own passport. We have been encouraging her to leave and she wants to do so but is very scared. 

We spent some time trying combinations of the number she has left but cannot get through.