Domestic migrant workers in the UK can be trapped in slave-like conditions, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on March 31.
The 58-page report, Hidden Away: Abuses against Migrant Domestic Workers in the UK, documents the life condition of migrant workers, who often live as virtual prisoners, with their passports confiscated, working extraordinarily long hours for pitiful wages, and suffering physical and psychological abuse, with no rest day or freedom of movement.
The report also shows the UK government has failed to live up to its obligations under international law to protect migrant domestic workers and enable them to access justice if they are mistreated. “It’s scandalous that in modern Britain migrant domestic workers are subject to such appalling abuses,” said Izza Leghtas, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But instead of protecting these workers, the system makes it harder for them escape.”
The UK’s new law (April 2012) which abolishes the right of a migrant domestic workers to change employer once they are in the UK, against the recommendations of parliament, nongovernmental organizations, and UN experts, means migrant domestic staff cannot flee abuse.
“Workers who are mistreated now face a horrendous choice: either endure the terrible abuse, or escape and become undocumented migrants, where of course they are much more vulnerable to further abuse and exploitation,” said Leghtas. “It’s abhorrent that anyone should be tied into abuse in this way.”
The report is timed to coincide with the bringing forward of a modern slavery bill by Home Secretary Theresa May, which will increase penalties for slavery, servitude, forced labour, and human trafficking from 14 years to life imprisonment. However, the bill makes no reference at all to the plight of domestic workers, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch is urging the government to broaden the scope of the bill to ensure appropriate protections for migrant domestic workers, including the right to change employer.
“The UK government is failing in its duty to protect migrant domestic workers, who all too often are victims of horrific hidden abuse,” Leghtas said. “If it’s serious about ending what it calls modern day slavery, the government should recognise just how vulnerable these workers are and give them the protection they deserve.”