The British government is being urged to increase the protection for migrant domestic workers, including from India, who accompany their employers to the UK, amid evidence of “serious” abuse, and what some warned was tantamount to “slavery.”

The abuse was identified in an extensive report by Human Rights Watch and included confiscation of the worker’s passport, physical, verbal and emotional abuse, long work hours, being locked indoors and wages well below the British minimum.

“The UK government has failed to live up to its obligations under international law to protect migrant workers and enable them to access justice if they are mistreated,” says the report.

Tied Visa

Campaigners are calling for a reversal of the “tied visa” introduced in 2012 as part of the government’s tightening of immigration controls. The visa prevents migrant domestic workers from moving to a different employer for full-time work, making it far harder for them to leave abusive situations, and leaving them fearful of deportation if they seek help.

Campaigners also pointed out that budget cuts had reduced the amount of aid available for workers, leaving many of those who were not the victims of trafficking with no sources of support.

“Immigration control cannot override its duty to protect abused and exploited individuals,” warned the report.

“Two years on it remains clear that removing the most basic workers’ right — the ability to resign — leaves migrant domestic workers in the UK completely at the mercy of their employers,” says Kate Roberts of migrant workers charity Kalayaan.

While much of the evidence of abuse came from migrant workers from Gulf countries, the report documents a case of an Indian domestic worker called “Anita L” who wasn’t paid for three years, including time spent in the UK, when she was not allowed to leave the house alone.

Setting it right

Unions and campaigners on Tuesday gathered outside Downing Street to call for rights to be reinstated for the group. Campaigners are calling for rules that would allow migrant domestic workers to move employers and renew their visa in the UK to be introduced into the Modern Day Slavery Bill currently going through parliament.

“We call upon the Prime Minister to make sure that the domestic worker visa is restored,” said Diana Holland of the Unite union. “By doing so, the UK could proudly proclaim itself a world leader in combating trafficking and slavery.”