The domestic worker concession, introduced in 1998 by a Labour Government, is to be removed.
Migrant domestic workers brought into Britain – to work as cooks, cleaners and nannies – will lose the right to change employers and could become virtual slaves in their employers’ homes under new immigration rules, campaigners warned.
Labour Ministers – who campaigned on this issue whilst in opposition, highlighting accusations of sexual abuse, physical assault and ‘poverty pay’ regularly faced by foreign domestic staff – are now being accused of hypocrisy.
Only a year after Tony Blair’s first election victory in 1997, legislation was prioritised to give extra rights to thousands of domestic workers.
But under the new Points-Based system currently being rolled out, the Home Office plans to reverse the move this autumn, sparking protests from trade unions and a former Labour immigration minister.
Around 17,000 non-European Union foreign nationals receive visas every year to work as domestic servants in Britain.
They are legally entitled to leave their employer if they are abused or exploited and to receive basic protection – including the minimum wage – under UK employment law.
This protection will be swept away by proposed changes to immigration rules, which will severely restrict domestic workers’ rights.
In future domestic workers will only be allowed in on non-renewable business visas, which will end their ability to get a new job if they are mistreated by their employer. The Home Office argues that the move is essential to prevent abuse of border controls.
Domestic Workers may be forced to leave the UK
Cynthia Barker and Mike Higgs, leading Immigration Advisers who have helped hundreds of runaway workers escape abusive employers, believe the measures are part of Home Office plans to discourage lower skilled workers from outside the EU.
“Domestic workers no longer fit the mould of the type of migrant the Government wants to attract and thousands could be forced to leave the UK if their visas are not renewed under this new ruling,” Cynthia said.
“Yes, the country needs highly skilled and wealthy migrants, but who is going to look after their children and run their homes?” she commented yesterday.
“Many domestic workers are actually managing large homes with budgets the size of small businesses and should not really be treated as low-skilled workers at all”
In a statement published in the Independent newspaper, Kate Roberts, a community support worker at Kalayaan, which counsels the victims of abusive employers, said she was horrified by the Government’s change of heart. “These changes will remove the most basic protection for migrant domestic workers,” she said. “They will be left incredibly vulnerable to exploitation or abuse.”
She said the moves contradicted the Government’s stated commitment to protect the victims of people trafficking, who are smuggled into the country to work as prostitutes or illegal workers. They would also leave migrant workers who have fled their employers destitute and homeless.
The T&G union is this weekend organising a meeting to discuss opposition to the moves and to make a fresh plea to Government to rethink its plans.
“I can’t believe a Labour government will want this to happen” Barbara Roche, former immigration minister
Barbara Roche, the former immigration minister, said: “I championed this cause in opposition and government and the changes we put through were to help stop abuse and trafficking.
“These new proposals are a very retrograde step. Workers who suffer abuse from employers will feel absolutely alone.
“I can’t believe a Labour government which has taken such a firm stance against trafficking will want this to happen.”
Diana Holland, the T&G National Organiser for Women, Race and Equalities, said that, until 1998, the visa system had “turned migrant domestic workers into slaves”. She warned that Home Office policy reversal would strip them of their right to challenge and would once again mean abuse going unchecked.
A Home Office spokesman said: “These are not migrant workers but people who are ordinarily employed and resident outside the UK, so changing employers in the UK would not be appropriate.
“As part of our continued work to combat trafficking, our emphasis will be upon developing robust pre-entry.”
Last year I attended a meeting at the Philippine Embassy in London, where Home Office officials were invited by Ambassador Espiritu to listen to the concerns of the Filipino community. The Embassy had been quick to spot the threat to Filipino workers posed by the planned Points System, which had not even mentioned domestic visa holders.
When questioned on the fate of the estimated 12,000 Filipino domestic workers in the UK, the senior of the three officials, a business architect working on the new Points System, said that “nothing was set in stone” and added that they were still prepared to “listen”. It seems the pleas of the Filipino community, welfare campaigners and union leaders have fallen on deaf ears.
Existing domestic visas are normally renewed annually, raising further worries for the thousands of domestic workers already in the UK. If the Home Office refuses to renew their visas, they will be forced to leave the UK.
I know of many Filipino domestic workers who look after the children of some of Britain’s top business and show biz people, politicians, and even royalty – in other words, our future leaders. There is going to be a hell of a row if we start trying to kick these people out.
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