Karen Buck

Working hard for Westminster North

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Modern slavery - time to protect overseas domestic workers

Many people have contacting me recently with  regard to overseas domestic worker (ODW) visa arrangements and the Modern Slavery Bill.

I was very pleased to work closely with the leading campaign organisation in this field Kalayan when my constituency included their office in North Kensington prior to 2010, and I heard a great deal of powerful testimony about the scale of the problem and the appalling abuse many overseas domestic workers endured.

I therefore absolutely supported the introduction of the Modern Slavery Bill  as it went through Parliament. Modern slavery is a heinous and all too prevalent crime and the complicated nature of tackling it requires special legislation. I believe, however, that this Bill could go further in a number of areas to help victims and survivors of modern slavery – including with regard to Overseas Domestic Workers.

As you know, in April 2012 the Government changed the Immigration Rules to prevent ODWs from changing their employer in the UK, and limiting the length of time ODWs can stay here to six months. I recognise the serious concerns that organisations such as Kalayaan and others have raised about these changes, and the effect they are having on protections for workers against potential abuse and servitude under tied visa arrangements.

I agree that the Government’s changes to the Immigration Rules in April 2012 have made things worse for Overseas Domestic Workers and have led to more of them being trapped in slavery. Kalayaan’s work has also found that domestic workers on tied visas are twice as likely to report significantly worse conditions and fewer freedoms.

I welcomed the amendment to the Bill supported by my colleagues in the House of Lords-which would effectively reverse the Government’s 2012 changes to ODW visa arrangements. Unfortunately, this was defeated by the Government.

Plans for an independent review into Overseas Domestic Workers’ visa arrangements were announced instead,  in light of the concerns that have been raised inside and outside of Parliament. . I believe, however, that this review is too late, unnecessary and that it does not tackle head on the plight of many workers who are subject to forced labour and exploitation.

However, there is still more work to be done on the issue of specific offences of child and adult exploitation, and I welcome that a future Labour Government will seek to remedy this. I can assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely.

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