Domestic workers employed by diplomats in the UK are 20 times more likely to be in slavery than those who work in private households, according to a new report by London based migrant domestic worker charity Kalayaan.
The UK is failing to prevent slavery in diplomatic households said the charity Kalayaan today, as they published their new research Ending the abuse: Policies that work to protect migrant domestic workers in anticipation of a Government review of the visa protections afforded to this vulnerable group of mainly female workers. The charity finds that while 0.2% of the 15,000 domestic workers who come to the UK each year find themselves in slavery, this figure rockets up to 3.8% for those in diplomatic households.
The report details how in the last three years, domestic workers who had been working for diplomats reported to Kalayaan that they had their passports withheld (58% of those registering with Kalayaan), had not been allowed out of the house unaccompanied (63%), had worked 16 hours or more per day (53%), 7 days a week (63%) and were paid under £50 per week (50%). In some extreme cases individuals reported having been physically assaulted (11%) and sexually abused (6%). (2010 percentages given)
Diplomatic immunity invoked by diplomats accused of slavery is currently protecting perpetrators from facing justice and a possible 14 years in prison. The charity believe that the UK must reform the immigration rules and allow migrant domestic workers who work for diplomats to change their employer, meaning they can at least escape slavery without losing their immigration status or their ability to send money home to their families. Only then will domestic workers feel safe enough to try and pursue justice against powerful diplomats.
Jenny Moss, Community Advocate from Kalayaan said:
“The immunity of diplomats to prosecution means that this group of migrant women are the most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse including physical and sexual abuse and given the number of such abuse that have been reported it is extremely distasteful to think the Government may be unwilling to make such a change because of perceived difficulties with ‘diplomatic relations’. We simply cannot understand why those domestic workers in the employ of diplomats are not allowed to change employer just like any other domestic worker.”
Mary, a migrant domestic worker trafficked to the UK by a diplomat from her own country said:
“Once we arrived in London, I was expected to work from half past five in the morning to ten or eleven o’clock at night. I was never given a day off during the three months that I worked there and they did not pay me at all. When I asked my employer about my salary one day, he beat me severely and told me that they weren’t going to pay me because they had paid for my air ticket and I was costing them lots of money because of the food I was eating and the water I was drinking. On another occasion, I asked him about my passport, he refused to talk to me about it and kicked me in the stomach.
In the five years since I fled from my employer, I have never been paid. The problem is that the moment someone knows you’re illegal, that you don’t have any papers, then they know that you have no rights.”
“Ending the Abuse” draws on data from the Home Office and from Kalayaan’s extensive client database and on interviews with domestic workers. The research finds that the Overseas domestic worker visa for private households is working as intended, with 94% of domestic workers coming to the UK for a short period of time and then leaving again with their employer.
In addition to extending the private household domestic worker visa rights to those in the employer of diplomats, the report also recommends a number of measures that would prevent the exploitation, abuse and trafficking of migrant domestic workers in general. These include the Government giving every domestic worker information about their rights in their own language as part of the visa application process; to maintain the right to settlement for domestic workers so that they are able to finally be independent of an employer’s sponsorship; to institute a bridging visa for migrant domestic workers who have become undocumented through no fault of their own; and to clarify in law that all migrant domestic workers are entitled to the national minimum wage.
Premana, a migrant domestic worker who came to the UK with a private household worked long hours with no rest day for only £25 per week, and was not allowed out of the house without her employers who kept her passport. She endured this treatment for two long years because she had never been told her rights and didn’t know she had any other option. She said:
“I was so scared then, they used to shout and insult me all the time. In my new job I still work long hours but the employers treat me well and I get a good salary. Now I have a day off and go and meet the new friends I made. I’m so much happier... I want other domestic workers to know that whatever their employers tell them, they don’t need to be scared; in the UK they have rights.”