Every year, thousands of immigrant women come to the UK to work as domestic workers for wealthy families. Every year, thousands of them are subjected to abusive situations, where they are subjected to physical and psychological abuse by their employers. According to Home Office’s data, there are approximately 18,000 Overseas Domestic Worker Visas (ODWV) issued every year. A staggering 85% of domestic workers under that visa reported psychological abuse, while 33% of them received no wages at all. It is clear that modern slavery is a huge problem in the UK in a variety of forms and domestic workers are one of the most vulnerable groups to be exposed to this human rights violation.
This cruel situation cannot be tolerated and action must be taken to end modern slavery in the UK and the rest of the world. In 2012, as a result of the introduction of new visa rules, Overseas Domestic Workers were no longer allowed to change their employer, renew their visas or settle in the UK after five years of active work, all rights they had before. This led to a situation where domestic workers did not have any rights to leave exploitative employers, which encouraged abuse and mistreatment to happen without any repercussions. Four years later in 2016, the UK demonstrated some concern by softening some of the restrictive regulations of the ODWV. They decided to allow domestic workers to switch their employers within the six-month term of their visas, however, their right to renew visas was not reinstated.
Even though these changes were in the right direction, in reality, there hasn’t been a substantial difference. Most of the women coming to the UK to work as domestic workers do not have a good knowledge of English and are unaware of their rights and their ability to change employers. But even when they are aware of it, without the right to renew their visas, many domestic workers decide to stay with exploitative employers and send money back home instead of using that limited time to look for a new employer.
Moreover, many of the domestic workers coming to the UK have no choice but to stay after the six-month period of their visas due to economic reasons. This leaves them in an unprotected situation, forced to work shrouded in a veil of secrecy and exposed to high levels of mistreatment. It was at the beginning of this year when the appalling news arrived of a domestic worker who died of pneumonia as she was too scared to go to the doctor. Due to the data-sharing agreement between NHS and the Home Office, the immigration status of the patients has to be reported, which results in many of them not getting the health care they need out of fear.
The abusive and enslaving conditions suffered by Overseas Domestic Workers need to be taken seriously and strong measures are needed in order to end this horrible situation. We cannot continue to allow modern slavery to happen around us without doing everything we can to stop it. We at JAN Trust stand against modern slavery and condemn the awful conditions that many domestic workers are forced to live with. At our centre we work to empower vulnerable women, providing a secure space for those who seek advice and guidance, so they can become independent and active members of our society.
If you want to know more about what we do, visit our website www.jantrust.org.