Draft Modern Slavery Bill - Draft Modern Slavery Bill Joint Committee Contents

7  Overseas domestic workers

223. The experiences of overseas domestic workers who are ill-treated by their employers are "often at the exploitative end of employment or at the cusp of domestic servitude",[334] but some of these workers are also subject to extreme exploitative and violent behaviour.[335] Part 1 of the Committee Bill offers protection to those whose experiences "slip over into domestic servitude and the worst excesses",[336] but neither it nor the Government's draft Bill addresses the less extreme forms of abuse which would in other circumstances be more properly dealt in the civil courts or through an employment tribunal.

224. The difficulties faced by this group of workers appear to have been compounded by changes made to Immigration Rules in 2012 which had the net effect of removing their right to change employer, and thus denying them one means of removal from an abusive situation.[337] The Impact Assessment that accompanied the 2012 changes stated that the ability of these workers to change employer and access the UK labour market was "contrary to general Government policy on low skilled migration". It acknowledged the "vulnerability to abuse and exploitation" of these workers, but suggested that "up to 60% of employer changes are not related to abusive employment" and that anyway there were other mechanisms in place, including the NRM, to protect those experiencing abusive employment conditions.

225. Evidence we received challenges the assumption that such mechanisms provide adequate protection: we were given examples of employers interpreting for workers at key interviews, or keeping hold of their workers' passports during immigration control. Another witness described the effect of the 2012 changes as "absolutely disastrous" for overseas domestic workers. One of the factors we found most distressing was that those who are contacted by these workers are now often unable to help as the victims are in effect tied to their employer.[338] Tying migrant domestic workers to their employer institutionalises their abuse; it is slavery and is therefore incongruous with our aim to act decisively to protect the victims of modern slavery.

226. It was suggested to us that abuse was a problem for a disproportionate number of workers who held diplomatic domestic worker visas.[339] Diplomatic domestic workers are treated differently to other overseas domestic workers for immigration purposes but they have the same restriction upon them in terms of an inability to change employer.[340] Their employer is also protected from prosecution under UK law by diplomatic immunity. ATLEU suggested that ensuring that diplomatic domestic workers were given leave to enter only if they had direct contractual arrangements with the Embassy or other diplomatic mission would enable those in an abusive employment condition to bring claims against their employer in the UK courts, albeit perhaps in a limited range of circumstances.

227. We recommend the Home Office reverse the changes to the Overseas Domestic Worker Visa. This would at the very least allow organisations and agencies to remove a worker from an abusive employment situation immediately. It would also enable the abuse to be reported to the police without fear that the victim would be deported as a result. This in turn would facilitate the prosecution of modern slavery offences.[341]

228. Enabling diplomatic domestic workers to bring claims against their employer would be a powerful deterrent to abuse. We recommend the Government consider the merits of granting visas to diplomatic domestic workers only where they have contractual arrangements directly with the Embassy or other diplomatic mission.

334   Q 82 (Chris Randall) Back

335   Q125 (Marissa Begonia) Back

336   Q 82 (Chris Randall) Back

337   Q 84 (Chris Randall) Back

338   Q 82 (Julia Harris); Q125 (Marissa Begonia) Back

339   QQ110 (Chris Randall); Q 129 (Kate Roberts) Back

340   Q 88 (Chris Randall) Back

341   Written evidence from Human Rights Watch Back

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Prepared 8 April 2014