by Gene Alcantara
Abuse and exploitation are a problem for Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) who are brought to the United Kingdom by their foreign employers. They do not work in Embassies or offices but in the private homes of employers. So they might get mistreated by employers without anybody finding out what is going on. It also confuses as to whether exploitation is protected by diplomatic immunity or not. But what can MDWs who suffer such abuse and exploitation do?
When they apply for visas to be accompanied by their MDWs, some foreign employers tell the British Embassy they would pay minimum wage when they are here and follow standard good employer practice in order to get the 6 month visa. They even submit documents of employment contracts reflecting this. So the foreign employer obtains a visa for the MDW. This is akin to a visitor’s visa, although in reality the MDWs are not tourists – it is their employers who are tourists, the worker continues to work as MDW while they are here.
When they are here, the reality is they may continue to get paid whatever much lower rates they get back in the foreign employer’s home country, with long hours and probably no day off, sometimes with physical abuse or indeed sexual abuse, and the foreign employer may hold on to the MDWs passport. We cannot generalise of course because we hear of good foreign employers who treat their MDWs right and with dignity.
As the British government has removed the right to change employers, the MDWs are stuck with their foreign employers when they are here, and the only thing they can do, if things become intolerable, is to escape into becoming undocumented. This is because their visa status does not allow them to extend their visa either. At the end of the 6 months visa, they are expected to leave the country.
Understandably, once they have run away, the MDWs are only too scared to go to the authorities, fearing that they might get deported. So they end up working informally for other UK-based private employers who are prepared to risk employing undocumented MDWs. It is easier for MDWs to work in private homes, away from prying eyes, than in a company where they would be visible.
When found out that they employ an undocumented worker knowingly, UK-based employers could face a jail sentence of up to 5 years, or a fine of up to £20,000 and if a director of a company, they face losing that directorship too. Embarrassingly, the Home Office also now publish the names of companies who were found to employ undocumented workers and the fines levied.
Some foreign employers hit back at the MDWs by reporting them missing, or that they have stolen from the foreign employers, although this might not be true. I know MDws who had to rummage through their foreign employers’ things, but only to look for their own passports before running away.
More often than not, foreign employers discard the MDWs Philippine passport or return it to the Philippine Embassy in their home country or possibly even surrender it to the British police.
It is then up to the MDW to try and retrieve it if they know how, or to seek assistance from the Philippine Embassy in London to see if it had been returned either to them or to their counterpart in the foreign employer’s home country.
This is where it all gets difficult as, if there is no sign of the passport, they would need to apply for one. Sometimes MDWs are worried about approaching the Embassy for assistance, fearing that they might get reported. But they should be assured that the Embassy is not concerned about their migration status, as confirmed in a recent meeting we had with the Acting Ambassador Charge d’Affaires Rhenita Rodriguez. Their only concern is to assist kababayans, so do not be afraid to approach them particularly the Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) under Labour Attache Amy Reyes.
The only way they can regularise their situation is by claiming that they are victims of Modern Slavery and Human trafficking. This is of course not the easiest thing to do as the Home Office have very high thresholds to meet before they believe one has been treated as a modern slave eg very low or unpaid wages, no days off, no holidays, long hours of work, verbal abuse, physical abuse or sexual abuse.
Europe is not exactly exempt from this issue, although the authorities there appear to be more understanding of those who suffer from modern slavery treatment. Recently, Juan EU Konek interviewed Filipino-French community leader Lito Gomez and TFC Correspondent Bong Agustinez who tried to assist a Filipina held by her Middle Eastern employers practically a prisoner in their apartment in Paris. The woman tried to escape by shimmying down tied blankets from the first floor of the building, but the tied blankets were too short or slippery and she fell onto the ground and broke her leg. Anyway she is now being treated sympathetically by the French authorities.
Once you claim to be a Modern Slavery victim in the UK (including slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and human trafficking), a case will need to be presented to a First Responder such as the Salvation Army, the Police and other organisations. They will conduct an interview and look into the matter first before recommending that the case is looked at by the Home Office (Single Competent Authority (SCA)) . Then the Home Office will conduct their own review and inform you accordingly whether there are ‘reasonable grounds’ that you are a victim of modern slavery. They are usually very slow at this, so a victim needs to continue to rely on her own resources to survive in the meantime. The Salvation Army could recommend an allowance meantime but it appears very low.
Once your claim of Modern Slavery and Human traficking is accepted by the authorities, they are supposed to grant you Discretionary Leave to Remain of up to 30 months to recover from such treatment. This hopefully gives the MDWs a chance to sort out their situation legally for a longer period.
Or you may wish to contact us in Juan EU Konek where our Immigration Juan Oh Juan hosts Gene Alcantara and Crystal Dias have experience of dealing with Modern Slavery victims and referring them on to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for identifying victims of trafficking.
Host, Juan EU Konek