Peers have taken a vital step toward ending slavery - now MPs must listen too

Posted by Bella Sankey on 26 February 2015

We did it.

In less than a week, more than 9,000 of you took the time to sign Liberty and Kalayaan’s petition calling on Peers to back an amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill that would allow vulnerable workers to escape abusive employers by axing the deeply flawed tied visa system.

And last night they did precisely that, taking a crucial step toward ending the scandal of modern slavery on our shores.

Since April 2012, migrant domestic workers have been tied to one employer upon entering the UK. This system was introduced as part of Coalition efforts to meet a self-imposed cap on the number of migrants coming to the UK from outside the EU. As today’s figures show, the Government has unequivocally failed to meet that cap, despite radically changing immigration rules. Domestic worker visas have stayed largely constant, amounting to only two per cent of UK immigration.

Overseas domestic workers are uniquely vulnerable, frequently coming from backgrounds of extreme poverty and reliant on their employer for both accommodation and wages. The tied visa leaves them even more vulnerable, making them dependent on their employer for their right to remain lawfully in the UK too.

The tied visa allows abusive employers to act with impunity. Workers are much less likely to report their actions to police for fear of deportation, choosing instead to tolerate ill-treatment – physical or sexual abuse, extremely long hours, withheld food and pay – or remain in the country undocumented. It is a hallmark of repressive regimes the world over – and there is overwhelming evidence that it has led to an increase in the abuse of vulnerable women here in the UK.

Research by Kalayaan – the leading organisation providing assistance to migrant domestic workers in the UK – found that:

  • 16 per cent of new entrants on tied visas reported physical abuse, compared to  8 per cent of those subject to the pre-April 2012 visa
  • 71 per cent of those tied to an employer reported never being allowed to leave the house unsupervised, compared to 43 per cent of those subject to the original visa
  • 60 per cent of tied migrants were paid less than £50 per week, compared to 36 per cent under the original visa
  • 69 per cent of those present on the tied visa were assessed by Kalayaan to be victims of trafficking, as opposed to 26 per cent of those not tied.

The amendment – behind which the Lords have now thrown their support – would restore some of the protections that were in place before April 2012. It would allow domestic workers to change employers, temporarily extend their leave to remain while in employment and, in circumstances where they have left a situation of modern slavery, access a temporary three-month visa permitting them to reside in the UK while they seek new work.

But the fight is far from over. The Government – desperate to retain a policy so closely tied to its doomed immigration cap – is blocking attempts to abolish tied visas, stubbornly averting its eyes from the plight of these vulnerable individuals.

In the past few days thousands and thousands of you have made it clear that there is no place for this detestable form of modern slavery in our country. Here’s hoping that MPs listen and – when the Bill returns to the House of Commons in the next couple of weeks – take the opportunity to put things right.

 

Issue type: 

Campaign reference: 

Modern Slavery