Existing protection and shortfalls

Existing Protection for Migrant Domestic Workers and shortfalls

Since 1998, migrant domestic workers have been recognised as workers with an immigration status which is independent to that of their employers. This provides them with protection under UK employment law as well as access to health care. This means that they can change employer (but not sector of work). This right to change employer is vital in order for MDWs to be in any kind of position to be able to negotiate their employment terms and conditions. Protection under UK employment law means that MDWs can challenge an employer, through a tribunal if necessary, for unpaid wages or other employment breaches. They are also entitled to join a union should they so wish. MDWs who accompany diplomats to the UK do not have the right to change employers. As their employer can claim diplomatic immunity it is also very difficult for them to make any claims against their employers.

UK Employment Rights
© Pete Pattisson                                    
The current system of domestic worker visas entitles MDWs to a series of rights, providing an essential safety net against the most extreme forms of abuse. Immigration rights give MDWs independent immigration status (although they are still dependent on being in full-time employment in order to apply to renew their visa). They are also entitled to apply for settlement after five years, provided they pass an exam demonstrating knowledge of citizenship and English. Employment rights allow MDWs to take action against employers if they are overworked or underpaid.

Access to Health Care
MDWs also have the right to access health care. This is essential, taking into account the general poor working conditions and high levels of stress and anxiety to which many MDWs are subjected.

The Right to Protection through an Independent Visa 
The rights to leave an employer, enabling a worker to escape abuse, apply to renew their visa if they are in full time employment, and access protection of their employment rights are vital to prevent extreme abuse of MDWs. It is in spite of these protections that abuse still occurs. The review needs to look at ways to build on and to enforce protections, ensuring that MDWs are able to access their rights in practice. The review also needs to ensure that protections are in place for diplomatic MDWs.