Earlier today I watched the Dispatches programme, Britain’s Secret Slaves (in the UK, you can watch it on their 4oD service), about the mistreatment of domestic workers in the UK. The first half, roughly, dealt with campaigners who try to get back passports that the workers’ former employers were holding on to, while they insist that the workers had no right to work for anyone else but them. There were tales of dreadful abuse, of pay well below the minimum wage, of workers not seeing their families (including their children) for years and being refused permission to travel home after their relatives had died, and of workers sleeping on air-beds in cupboards while their employers lived in mansions and shopped at Harrod’s.
The UK issues two types of domestic worker visa, and the most common one allows workers to change their employers while they are in the UK. The diplomatic domestic worker’s visa, however, doesn’t give the worker that right, with the result that they can be treated abominably and, because their employers have diplomatic immunity, they cannot be prosecuted for assaults or other crimes against their workers, and court judgements cannot be implemented against them. It was suggested that diplomatic immunity be amended so that it doesn’t apply to what goes on in the private lives of diplomatic staff, or what is unrelated to their diplomatic mission.
They could also make offences against the person exempt, but any such change is likely to be reciprocated against British diplomatic staff in other countries. Another solution might be to simply prohibit diplomatic staff from bringing their domestic staff with them, and require them to recruit in the UK, as British-based workers would be more likely to know the law and less likely to tolerate abuse. However, if a court judgement is made against an abusive employer and they refuse to pay, the money could be extracted from them by seizing their cars or buildings to be sold so that the amount concerned could be recovered. The inconvenience of losing such properties would probably motivate these people to pay what they owe pretty quickly.
There were three organisations mentioned in the programme which help or campaign for domestic workers in such situations: Anti-Slavery International, Kalayaan and Afruca (Africans Unite Against Child Abuse).
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