Justice for Domestic Workers awarded Anti-Slavery International Award 2011

Yesterday at the Human Trafficking Foundation Media Awards at the House of Lords, Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW) was presented with the Anti-Slavery International award 2011. Marissa Begonia, lead organiser of J4DW who was there with several of her colleagues and fellow domestic workers, took the opportunity to address the audience, including the Immigration Minister Damien Green, about the harm that will result from the government’s proposal to remove the Overseas Domestic Worker Visa. The visa, which was introduced in 1998, allows domestic workers to change employers and has been proven to protect many workers from abuse and exploitation.

In accepting the award Marissa said:

‘Some of you may have heard our stories but they are worth repeating again until they no longer exist.’

This is a story from Lakshmi: “my employer would lock me in my room after I finished my work at midnight and unlock my room at 4.30 am so I could start my work again. I was caged. My body would tremble with hunger as I drank water so I could survive every day, I thought of dying and that I would never see my family again. As I searched for my way out to survive I found my fellow domestic workers in Justice for Domestic Workers”…

The UK takes the issue of slavery seriously as can be seen with the introduction of a new slavery law, which specifically recognises the terrible crime of holding someone in slavery in the home. It is significant that someone found guilty of the crime of holding a domestic worker in slavery now faces 14 years in prison, twice as long a sentence as for the crime of forced labour in general.

In the UK, we also benefit from having a clear legal status under the Overseas Migrant Domestic Workers visa. With the visa, we are officially recognised as workers and our contribution to the economy, to families and to society is acknowledged. But more crucially for us, we are given the right to change employers if they don’t pay us, force us to work or abuse us. We are saddened that our fellow migrant domestic workers in diplomatic households still do not have the same rights as we have.

However, this basic protection is currently under threat with proposals to take the Overseas Domestic Workers visa away from us. Given that according to research by Kalaayan, migrant domestic workers working for diplomats and unable to change employer are 20 times more likely to find themselves in slavery, I need to ask why the government is considering removing a visa that been proven to significantly reduce the abuse and exploitation of domestic workers?’

J4DW is a member organisation of MRCF and we send them our congratulations on their very well deserved achievement and our support for their campaign to retain the Overseas Domestic Worker visa.

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