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Report/Press release

The New Bonded Labour? The impact of proposed changes to the UK immigration system on migrant domestic workers






The UK wanted to revert to old laws, that of domestic workers being tied to their employer. OXFAM and KALAYAAN (Justice for migrant domestic workers) assess the implications of such changes

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***: Nonetheless, the rights to leave an employer, renew a visa, settle in the country, and access
a full range of employment rights and health care are vital for the migrants’ well-being. Under the new
system, these immigration and employment rights will completely disappear, leaving MDWs without any
protection against abuse. Not being able to change employers translates into an increased number of
cases of abuse and exploitation, as MDWs will be trapped in one household. Leaving that household
will make them illegal, a powerful tool of control for employers. Illegality among MDWs will grow, as
more and more workers will end up staying longer than the six months allowed by their visa. This will be
through no fault of their own....The new system will increase the risk of trafficking, as it will allow employers to recruit MDWs abroad for
purposes of forced labour in the UK. This will occur without the existence of any protection for workers
or punishment for employers...The proposals to remove the rights of MDWs contradict the government’s current commitments to
protect victims of trafficking and work towards ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Action
against Trafficking in Human Beings. Arguably, it will also result in the contravention of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, with respect to the rights to safety, to not be enslaved, to not be treated
in a degrading manner, to an adequate standard of living, and to equal access to protection in law. -p.6

They will be unable to change employer, and may lose access
to employment rights.
The main consequence will be increased vulnerability due to being trapped in the household with
no possibility of leaving...Anti-Slavery International recommends in Trafficking for Forced Labour: UK Country Report
that the proposals are dropped. It states that the proposals would contribute to MDWs being
trafficked; that ‘the impact of trafficking in human beings needs to be assessed as an essential
part of changes in migration policies’; and that legal channels by which workers migrate should
be ‘seen as a tool to prevent trafficking’.29 The House of Lords and House of Commons Joint
Committee on Human Rights recommend in their report on human trafficking that the proposed
changes would mean that ‘domestic workers who are trying to flee a violent employer would be
less likely to do so, and less likely to approach public authorities for help or to report their abuse’. -p.25

Once MDWs are forbidden to change employer legally, they will become even more vulnerable to
exploitation. Whenever an abusive employment situation occurs and MDWs leave their employers,
they will become 'illegal'. They will therefore be susceptible to further abuse by other, unscrupulous,
employers who may take advantage of a worker's irregular immigration status. Immigration status will
revert to being a tool used by employers to control MDWs, as it was before the previous change in
legislation in 1998.
Moreover, the underlying problem will remain that MDWs will lack information regarding the conditions
of the visa, in much the same way as they do now. But the consequences will be much worse, because
conditions under the new legislation will be much stricter. Considering that even now, domestic workers
who do not know they are allowed to leave their employers still do so, because their conditions of work
and pay are unbearable, it seems unlikely that they would not do the same under the new legislation,
with the difference being that doing this will result in their illegality...Ultimately, preventing domestic workers from accessing the right to change employer and renew their
visa would increase the risk of domestic workers being trafficked. -p. 26

Therefore, the proposed legislation would allow employers to do exactly what is described
above: recruit persons by means of the use of coercion and of a position of vulnerability,
for the purpose of exploitation in terms of forced labour. The new immigration provisions for
domestic workers would make it virtually impossible to prevent forced labour from occurring,
and may indeed even encourage it: it would be left unpunished. As such, the new legislation
is in direct contravention to the Home Office stated policy on trafficking. -p. 27

By not allowing MDWs to legally change their employer, abuse will continue to go unpunished.
Employers will be able to mistreat MDWs and keep them in conditions akin to slavery, without
the risk of the migrant running away and reporting them to the competent authorities. ...Under the new legislation, MDWs would lose all protection from
being mistreated and abused -p. 31


Economic sectors

Occupations in services - Domestic work

Content types

Policy analysis and Statistics on work and life conditions

Target groups


Geographical focuses

United Kingdom