UK: Domestic workers rally against modern slavery
UNITED KINGDOM -
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Domestic workers rally against modern slavery in UK | ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau
Migrant domestic workers and human rights campaigners joined forces at a Westminster rally to call an end to modern slavery in Britain.
Dubbed as the "No To Slavery" campaign, protesters took to the streets outside the Houses of Parliament in central London to fight against what they believe is an ongoing oppression of migrant domestic workers in the country.
The event, which includes keynote speeches from prominent campaigners, creative activities from live poetry to graffiti, and public dramatization of real cases, also marks the 2014 International Domestic Workers’ Day last June 16.
“There is slavery in Britain. It’s been historic and it’s still alive today,” said Marissa Begonia, a Filipina activist and coordinator of Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW), a UK lobby group campaigning for rights of domestic workers, that also organized the rally.
She told ABS-CBN Europe: “We would like to raise awareness of slavery to the public. We need the public to support our campaign. We need the public to know that there are domestic workers caged in some private households. We also want the government to listen to us to reinstate the rights of domestic workers in the UK. And for all of them to treat us as part of society, with the kind of respect we deserve.”
Campaigners at the rally - which includes J4DW, migrant rights supporter Kalayaan, and labor group UNITE The Union - are lobbying for changes to UK government policies on immigration and domestic work which, they argue, are facilitating slavery.
In particular, they are calling for the reinstatement of Overseas Domestic Worker Visa, abolished in April 2012, which includes the rights to change employer, renew visa in the UK, apply for settlement after five years in the UK, and the right to have a family reunion.
They also want these rights to be extended to domestic workers in diplomatic households, which currently operate under a different set of tighter rules.
“It is the system that allows employers to abuse and exploit domestic workers, and it is the system that we are fighting to change to free domestic workers from slavery,” said Begonia, who also claims to have personally experienced abuse while working as a domestic worker.
“Many people don’t believe that slavery exists,” she added, “because gone are those days when people are chained. But actually, in forbidding domestic workers to change employers, to tie them to one employer, that is slavery.”
Human rights campaigners argue that the current UK policy of tying migrant domestic workers to one employer makes it easier for labor exploitation and abuses to take place, leaving household staff vulnerable and powerless against rogue employers.
“I often run out in the middle of the night to rescue domestic workers and help them, especially if I can hear on the phone that they are being beaten,” Begonia said.
“We have many rape cases. Some are not paid their salary on time or are not paid enough, some not paid at all. And even worst cases like being poured boiling water on your body. When we see them, we can see all these marks. So many of them just run away. These are horrible and inhumane, and you wouldn’t think this is happening in the UK, but we face these abusive treatments from employers," she added.
Meena - not her real name - is one of those who suffered abuse at the hands of her employers in the UK. She declined to be identified due to an ongoing case.
“I ran away from my employers because I couldn’t take the abuses any more. They didn’t pay my salary and I was also left hungry all the time,” she told ABS-CBN Europe.
“When I escaped I had no clothes except what I was wearing, so J4DW helped me. They gave me clothes and sheltered me temporarily. Then they took me to Kalayaan who gave me advice and referred me to a lawyer. That was a year ago now, and I have a human trafficking case in court, but a year is not enough to recover from the abuse I have experienced," she said.
The 34-year-old domestic worker, originally from Mindanao, was brought to the UK by her employers from Qatar, where she worked legally since 2005.
She claims to have been exploited in both countries, from not being paid the amount of salary promised in her contract, to limited food provisions which left her hungry at night, and even verbal and psychological abuse from employers who were allegedly “angry” at her constantly.
She also felt isolated from her own family and friends after she was forbidden to use a mobile phone to contact anyone, forcing her to do it in secret whenever she had a rare opportunity to do so.
“I had to escape to save myself and to try my luck in the UK, even though I had to hide because we don’t have rights here. I’m still scared but I have to try and take my chances,” she said.
Story Type: News