‘I had no choice but to leave my country.’
Ellen is a Filipino domestic worker and a campaigner for change. Having grown up in poverty, she left her country to take control of her life. However, the current immigration policy in the UK has made her reliant on her employer.
‘My childhood was stolen by poverty. I was away from my family since nine years old, working for rich people while studying at school. I had no choice but to leave my country and my family. For fifteen years I have been working abroad as a domestic worker. At present I am here in the UK. Along the way I realized that I still don’t have the power over my own life. I am still reliant to my employer. I don’t understand why people are so mad about us immigrants. I just want to work here. I pay my taxes. And most of all I do a job that English people don’t want to do anyway. We need the laws to protect us as human beings. UK government must ratify ILO C189 [Domestic Workers Convention]. We deserve equal rights.’
What are the current rights of migrant domestic workers in the UK?
There are currently at least 53 million domestic workers worldwide, 83 per cent of whom are women. The work they do is generally cleaning and care work, for which they receive low wages, work long hours and are vulnerable to mental, physical and sexual abuse by employers. This is often attributed to restrictions on their freedom of movement and gaps in labour and employment legislation. The British government introduced immigration laws in April 2012 that created a system where the visas of domestic workers were attached to their employers. This is generally referred to as a ‘tied visa’.
What are the issues with the ‘tied visa’ system?
The Tied Visa Law introduced in 2012 means domestic workers cannot leave their employers (as their visa is tied to them), regardless of if they suffer exploitation or abuse, as they would face deportation. Given the financial hardship faced by foreign domestic workers who are often supporting families at home, deportation and loss of income is not an option. This has led to what many are describing as the transformation of domestic workers into modern day slaves. In 2015 the charity Justice 4 Domestic Workers lobbied politicians to include a clause to remove tied visas in the Modern Slavery Bill. The clause was added by the House of Lords but promptly rejected by the Commons.
In addition to ending tied visas, many campaigners are pressuring the British government to ratify ILOC189 a landmark treaty establishing the rights of domestic workers, giving them the respect, protection, and rights of work that are afforded to all other workers. The convention has so far been ratified by 22 countries. The convention lays out the minimum standards regarding the promotion and protection of human rights, fundamental principles and rights at work, terms and conditions of employment, working time, remuneration, occupational safety and health, social security, groups with special risks: child domestic workers, live-in workers, migrant domestic workers, private employment agencies, dispute settlement, complaints and enforcement. Not only is it important for the British government to ratify the convention in order to protect domestic workers in the UK, it is also important for them to help establish an international precedent.