Modern Slavery Bill

Written evidence submitted by Dr Virginia Mantouvalou (MS 28)

Dr Virginia Mantouvalou is Co-Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Reader in Human Rights and Labour Law, University College London (UCL), Faculty of Laws. Dr Mantouvalou has been conducting research on the labour rights of migrant domestic workers since 2004. In 2013, she joined the management board of Kalayaan (NGO working on the rights of migrant domestic workers). The views expressed here are those of Dr Mantouvalou alone and should not be attributed to any organization.

Executive Summary

This written evidence involves the 2012 Overseas Domestic Worker visa regime, which is in place since 6 April 2012. On the basis of ongoing academic research that I am conducting, the Overseas Domestic Worker visa has severe shortcomings. The interviews that I have conducted of migrant domestic workers under this visa reveal that it may lead to situations that are contrary to the purpose and spirit of the Modern Slavery Bill, and needs to be revised. The fact that it lasts for a period of six months which is not renewable, and does not permit the worker to change employer create situations of great dependency, serious exploitation and abuse, fear and intimidation, trapping ultimately a most vulnerable group of workers to ongoing cycles of exploitation.

1. Under the 2012 Overseas Domestic Worker (ODW) regime, migrant domestic workers can accompany their employers that visit the United Kingdom from abroad with a visa that can last for up to 6 months. Their visa status ties them to the employer with whom they entered the country. [1] Their residency status is lawful for as long as the employer with whom they entered employs them, to a maximum of 6 months. The 6-month period is not renewable. This visa regime has been heavily criticized by NGOs working in the field of human rights and labour rights. [2] It was also recently heavily criticized in the Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, in which I also gave oral evidence. Grave concerns have been raised in reports on human trafficking and modern slavery, [3] and academic literature on the topic. [4] The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women similarly highlighted the problems of the visa for domestic workers, following a mission to the UK. [5]

2. In this written evidence, I would like to bring to the attention of this Committee some preliminary findings from a research project that I am currently conducting. In this project (which is ongoing), I am interviewing migrant domestic workers that have arrived in the UK under the 2012 ODW visa. Domestic workers are an extremely difficult group of workers to gain access to due to their transience, lack of interaction in British society, language issues and often their fears of jeopardizing both their employment and visa status. My research is a qualitative study that is able to look in depth at the personal experiences of a small but representative group of domestic workers under the 2012 ODW tied visa regime. [6] In these interviews I have been able to explore the following issues:

· Living and working conditions prior to arrival

· Knowledge of details of visa and legal rights

· Living and working conditions after arrival

· Relationship with sponsoring employer

· Circumstances of escape from employer (if interviewee has escaped)

· Living and working conditions after the escape

· Contact with the authorities (police, immigration, courts)

· Situation in country of origin/dependents in need of support

· Trade union membership

The following are preliminary findings from this qualitative research, which I feel are most relevant to the work of the Committee.

3. Key Safeguards not in Place: The immigration rules on the ODW 2012 visa provide for some safeguards for the domestic workers under the tied visa. These include written terms and conditions between the employer and the worker before entry in the UK and information by the UK authorities on the domestic workers’ rights and avenues for help. However, in the majority of the interviews that I have conducted this far, I have found that these safeguards are not implemented in practice. Most domestic workers that I interviewed were not given information at the UK Embassy in the country of origin. None were given information at the airport, upon arrival. In addition, as explained below, even if these safeguards were in place, this would not provide sufficient protection to these workers.

4. Working and Living Conditions Prior to and Post-Arrival: Domestic workers are a vulnerable group of workers that are often excluded from protective labour legislation. [7] Other factors that contribute to the vulnerability of this particular group include language barriers, lack of friends and family in the UK, lack of knowledge of existing networks of support and lack of knowledge of their legal rights. The working and living conditions of the interviewees prior to arrival in the UK are extremely poor, according to the findings of my research. Some salaries are as low as £50 per month, and most range between £100-250 per month. For almost all interviewees, no pay increase took place while in the UK, even if the employers said that this would happen. In fact, many of those interviewed were not paid at all while in the UK. Most interviewees work very long hours, between 12 and 18 hours a day, and have no day off. Most of them do not have their own room, but share a room with the children of the family. These workers are used to extremely low labour standards and the absence of labour rights in the country of origin (which is well-documented [8] ). As a result these workers do not question the continuation of this situation while in the UK. In addition some of these workers also face psychological and physical abuse in their employment. For example, some workers interviewed thus far were being sexually harassed or assaulted by their employers; another was sexually harassed by other domestic workers, but the employers took no action to protect the worker, even though the harassment had been brought to their attention.

5. Dependency, Fear and Intimidation: After arrival to the UK, one of the biggest concerns is that many of the employers use the tied status of the visa in order to threaten and intimidate the workers. Most of the interviewees did not have their passports when they arrived in the UK. Their employers kept these, and regularly used threats related to their tied visa status in order to intimidate them. Many employers told them that if they escape, they will be arrested by the police, imprisoned and deported. One of the workers interviewed also received death threats from the employer. The fear that these workers feel is palatable in interviews. This fear is first inspired by abusive employers and then becomes fear of the authorities, fear of acting in any way that may be considered illegal, and the belief that the employers remain unaccountable.

6. Police and Immigration: None of the domestic workers that I have interviewed has been or would go to the police or immigration authorities, out of fear engendered in them by their employers. Most of them have been told by the employers that if they do approach the authorities, they will be imprisoned and deported. They fear deportation because of their desperate economic need, which led them to migrate in the first place. All of them have dependents that they need to support. This great degree of dependency that this visa creates traps them in abusive employment relations.

7. Escape and Illegality: Almost all the domestic workers I have interviewed so far have escaped from their employers; they are therefore now undocumented for periods ranging from a few months to two years. They are aware of their legal status and are embarrassed by it, but do not want to return to their employers because of the abuse and exploitation that they have suffered. Most of them do not want to return to their county of origin because they have dependents to support who are in desperate economic need. Having become undocumented in the UK, most of them find part-time jobs for a few hours a week. A few have full-time jobs as live-in domestic workers. Their current employers often are aware of their undocumented status. Sometimes the new employers exploit them further by paying them below the minimum wage or getting them to work very long hours. Despite that, these workers would not consider going to the authorities because they are afraid of deportation. In any case, because they are undocumented workers, their contracts of employment are illegal and cannot be enforced. Currently, therefore, exploitative employers remain unaccountable, and these workers are powerless, trapped in ongoing cycles of abuse and exploitation. [9]

8. Human Rights/Modern Slavery: The concern is that the 2012 ODW visa regime contributes to situations of such exploitation that it can be classified as ‘modern slavery’. Legal challenges to visa regimes have arisen in courts. In a case involving human trafficking in breach of article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of slavery, servitude, forced and compulsory labour), the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a very restrictive visa regime – the artiste visa regime in Cyprus – led to a violation of the Convention. [10] The Cyprus visa regime that was found to breach the Convention in Rantsev was even more restrictive than the ODW visa. However, the same principles can be extended to cover the ODW visa. Given both the European Court of Human Rights and the UK Supreme Court’s willingness to address some of the problems faced by migrant domestic workers, [11] there is good reason to believe that they may be open to examining challenges under the ODW visa.

9. Conclusion: The qualitative research conducted with 2012 ODW visa workers has revealed some deeply troubling patterns that characterize their living and working conditions. This evidence suggests that, in light of the commitment of the Government to tackle Modern Slavery, there is a pressing need to return to the pre-2012 ODW visa regime, which was able to provide better protection to this highly vulnerable group of workers, or at the least, to have certain safeguards in place: the ability to change employer (but not work sector) and the ability to renew their visa for periods not exceeding 12 months insofar as they are remain in employment.

October 2014

[1] See Immigration Rules, 159A-159H, available at

[2] Kalayaan, ‘Still Enslaved: The Migrant Domestic Workers who are Trapped by the Immigration Rules’, April 2014; Human Rights Watch, ‘ Hidden Away: Abuses against Migrant Domestic W orkers in the UK’. , March 2014.

[3] Centre for Social Justice , ‘It Happens Here’, March 2013; Andrew Boff, ‘Shadow City, Exposing Human Trafficking in Everyday London ’, G LA Conservatives, October 2013; Frank Field MP , Report of the Modern Slavery Evidence Review , December 2013.

[4] B Anderson, Us and Them, OUP, 2013, p 172 ff; V Mantouvalou, ‘What Is to be done for Migrant Domestic Workers?’, in Ryan (ed), Labour Migration in Hard Times, Institute of Employment Rights, 2014, 141.

[5] UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, 15 April 2014,

[6] It is important to note that the purpose of my research is not to produce large-scale quantitative analysis of the numbers of workers under this visa regime. It is instead to examine personal experiences of those under this visa regime in detail.

[7] V Mantouvalou, ‘Human Rights for Precarious Workers: The Legislative Precariousness of Domestic Labor’, (2012) 34 Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal 166.

[8] On the working conditions in Qatar, for instance, see the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, 23 April 2014. On Saudi Arabia, see Human Rights Watch, ‘As If I Am not Human’, July 2008.

[9] There is a narrow exception to this. See Hounga v Allen and Another [2014] UKSC 47 on appeal from [2012] EWCA Civ 609.

[10] Rantsev v Cyprus and Russia, App No 25965/04, (ECtHR, 7 January 2010).

[11] Siliadin v France App No 73316/01 (ECtHR, 26 July 2005); CN v UK, App No 4239/08 (ECtHR, 13 November 2012); Hounga v Allen and Another [2014] UKSC 47 on appeal from [2012] EWCA Civ 609.

Prepared 15th October 2014