Migrant domestic workers in the UK who enter on the tied Overseas Domestic Worker (ODW) visa were given substantial consideration during the progress of the Modern Slavery Bill through parliament. In spite of this the Modern Slavery Act does nothing to address the tying of migrant domestic workers to their employer through the immigration rules, a system which has repeatedly been evidenced to facilitate their abuse.
Amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill which would have reinstated key rights to change employer were tabled by David Hanson MP in the Commons and Lord Hylton in the House of Lords. The vote on David Hanson’s amendment was tied at Committee stage, losing to the Chair and won in the Lords, to be overturned when the Bill returned to the Commons. The only attempt in the Modern Slavery Act to address the situation of migrant domestic workers is Section 53.
Section 53 of the Modern Slavery Act offers too little to migrant domestic workers and too late; it does nothing to prevent or to protect against the trafficking and exploitation found to be facilitated by the tied ODW visa. It allows only for migrant domestic workers who entered the UK on the ODW visa and who have been found by the UK authorities to have been trafficked or subjected to slavery to apply for a visa with a maximum duration of six months permitting them to take full time work as a domestic worker in a private household. This visa must be applied for within 28 days of the trafficking finding. It allows no recourse to public funds and it is unclear as what support processes the worker can access when the visa expires after six months.
It is not clear how this provision is supposed to benefit workers and Kalayaan fears that it may increase the likelihood of further exploitation. As all who are eligible have been trafficked these workers will have no references, will be traumatised by the recent abuse they have suffered and yet will be expected to go out and find work in a private household. When seeking employment it will be clear that they cannot legally work for more than six months.
Reputable employment agencies have said it is unlikely they would be able to place workers in jobs which inevitably involve care responsibilities and are not usually considered short term. However if they cannot find work the no recourse stipulation means these women will be destitute or dependent upon the charity of others.
Section 53 of the Modern Slavery Act provides less than a residence permit would have done in terms of time in the UK to recover and support and options. It is an attempt to appear to act to protect migrant domestic workers in the UK while giving them nothing which they can use to meaningfully protect themselves or rebuild their lives and recover in practise. Instead there is a real risk that the minority of domestic workers able to make use of s.53 will find it impossible to find decent work on the short and restricted visa it gives them and are again exploited.
By Kate Roberts at Kalayaan