THE rejection by MPs of amendments to the Modern Slavery Bill,
which would have loosened the restrictions on migrant domestic
workers, has been criticised by charities and campaigners.
MPs voted down the amendments, added to the Bill by the House of
Lords with the support of the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James
Newcome, last week. Currently, domestic workers who are brought to
the UK by their employer enter the country on a tied visa, which
means that they cannot leave their job without losing their right
to work in the UK.
The amendments, added to the Bill by peers in February, would
have allowed such workers to take another job and then re-apply for
a visa. The amendments were opposed by the Government, although the
Minister for Modern Slavery, Karen Bradley, said that they agreed
in principle with the Lords on the issue.
The UK charity Kalayaan, which works with domestic workers who
have suffered abuse, said that the Government's position made no
sense and was "morally abhorrent". A statement from Kalayaan said:
"The Modern Slavery Bill is proposing to keep workers we know to be
vulnerable to extreme abuses including trafficking and slavery tied
to their employers on a visa which has been found to facilitate
The charity is now backing more amendments, proposed by
crossbench peer Lord Hylton, which would restore the original
amendments and free migrant domestic workers to leave their
employers and find work elsewhere.
Academics from University College London recently investigated
tied visas, which were introduced in 2012, by interviewing hundreds
of domestic workers. They found that eight per cent of those who
arrived before the law changed reported physical abuse by their
employers, but that this increased to 16 per cent after 2012.
Three in four workers on tied visas said that they were not
allowed to leave the house they worked in, compared with half of
those on the old visas. Sixty per cent on tied visas said that they
were paid less than £50 a week, compared with 36 per cent of the
pre-2012 workers. One of those interviewed told researchers that
she had even tried to kill herself because of the harassment she
Christian Aid has also long campaigned for the Government to do
more to protect domestic workers from exploitation. It wants the UK
to ratify the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Convention
189 on domestic workers, which was agreed in 2011 but has only been
ratified in 17 nations.
One of their international partners, Israeli campaigners Kav
LaOved, also fights to secure more rights for migrant domestic
workers. A co-ordinator for Kav LaOved, Noa Shauer, said on Friday
of last week that workers on similar tied visas in Israel were also
Often domestic workers have paid up to £8000 to a private firm
to allow them to come to Israel, but their visas do not allow them
to change employer more than once or leave a defined geographical
"One worker who came to us had been looking after a paralysed
boy for eight years with less than 24 hours off each week," Ms
Shauer said. "It's not rare that they cannot leave the house
for two years, or more.
"One showed us a [contract] where she was expected to work from
6 a.m. to 2 a.m. When the worker asked for time to wash her clothes
or call her family, her employer said, 'You can do it in your time
The ILO Convention is necessary because Israeli law does not
consider migrant domestic workers to be covered by legislation that
guarantees ordinary workers rights to time off and overtime