Updated: Oct 21
Unite the Union Fringe meeting during the Labour Party Conference, Liverpool 2023
Speech of Marissa Begonia at the Labour Party Conference, 9th of October 2023
I left my children to work for families in other countries leaving behind my own children who were just 3, 2, and 1 Years old. I looked after other people’s children while the money I earned supported my children's needs.
I’m Marissa Begonia, a mother, domestic worker, and Director of the self-organised group ‘’The Voice of Domestic Workers campaigning for our rights and welfare in the UK. I am also the Union Rep for Migrant Domestic Workers and currently working towards building a Domestic Workers Branch of Unite the Union.
Historically, the Labour Party ended the labour exploitation and slavery of migrant domestic workers in 1998 when thousands of domestic workers were legalised through the specially protected visa category called ’’Overseas Domestic Worker Visa’ which recognised domestic workers as workers and gave us the power to collective bargaining.
But the Conservative and Liberal Democrats in 2012 removed all rights of migrant domestic workers which according to our recent survey with Matt Reynolds at LSE showed the impact of not having rights in place;
This Overseas Domestic Workers Survey tells us why it is urgent that the Labour Party restores the rights that have proven the best prevention of the abuse and exploitation of these most vulnerable groups of workers. (please read the document below)
Here are the testimonies of my fellow domestic workers Ana, Andi and Lani;
My male employer would suddenly touch all over my body as I pushed him away and hid in the toilet. While my female employer would pull my hair and hit my face and accused me of being lazy even if I hid in the toilet for safety against her husband, she wouldn’t believe me. I wasn’t safe so I escaped! But outside upon my escape, I wasn’t safe either, my 6 months overseas domestic worker visa soon ended. I became undocumented, I had no power to fight so I was abused from one employer to another.
‘’My life is like a prison. The wifi has a curfew. My employer disconnected it during the night. The house has alarms and cameras. I couldn’t go outside. When I was left alone inside the house, they would lock the door. For many months I worked without pay. I am terribly sad about not being able to send money to my family. Why is this happening to me? I hope I can escape this cage I’m in but I don't know anyone, I don’t know this place, where shall I ask for help?’’
‘’I was in the UK already during the pandemic, I was abused sexually by my male employer and after the pandemic, I managed to escape. I tried to report to the police what happened to me but they dismissed my case for lack of evidence. It was hard enough to have the courage to speak out so I'm heartbroken not to be listened to and angry that I didn’t get the justice I deserved’’.
Ana, Andi, Lani and many other domestic workers are stuck in the National Referral Mechanism, which is an assessment of whether or not a person is a victim of modern slavery and trafficking.
But are they victims or are they workers without rights? Trafficking law shouldn't be a replacement for worker's rights.
Domestic Work is intense, heavy and difficult work.
When we cook, somebody will eat the food.
When we wash and iron clothes, somebody will wear them.
When we clean the house, somebody is happy and feels great
When we look after the children and care for the elderly, people are able to go to work or do their work and enjoy their social life
But care for domestic workers who care for families because we also have the right to be cared for. Society doesn’t evolve without Care. We all look after each other and we’ve seen this during the pandemic, domestic workers are essential workers too who work round the clock when everybody is locked in every private household.
Giving domestic workers the right to renew their visas and the right to settle will give them access to exercise fully the rights that all other workers have. No Human should be without rights.
I too have suffered like my fellow domestic workers. I knew what it’s like to be working 20 hours daily without rest, no day off and without pay. I knew how traumatic it is to be working in an unsafe workplace when male employers would crawl all over abusing our bodies. When I managed to escape from abusive employment, there was this Overseas Domestic Worker Visa' that allowed me to change employers, and renew my visa, until I settled and became a British Citizen, it truly changed and rebuilt my life. When I stood in front of the Unite the Union building in Holborn, I asked myself this question, ‘’ what did the union do for me as an individual worker? A question that was answered by my fellow domestic workers inside Unite the Union, we educate, organise and campaign for our rights. I am the living evidence that slavery could end. I have represented my Union Unite and the TUC during the Tripartite discussion on decent work for domestic workers ILO Convention 189, an international law that protects domestic workers globally. We are also fighting for the UK Government to ratify, Labour supported this convention and I witnessed it so we hope Labour will ratify and implement this Convention 189.
My 52 fellow domestic workers shouted this yesterday in front of this building. They travelled in coach from London to be here in Liverpool at this conference.
Enough is enough! We could take no more
Free and let our wings fly, We educate and soar
We organise, We campaign, We organise, We campaign
We organise, We campaign, We organise, We Campaign!
Now we found each other, a renewed hope is stronger
Together, Our voice echoes the world.
We are workers, We are Domestic workers!
Let's continue to build bridges, close gaps and win rights and recognition for all workers.
Please support keeping Domestic Worker's Rights in the Labour manifesto.
Reinstating the rights of migrant domestic workers will guarantee our labour protection, justice and equal rights.
Thank you very much for Listening!