Marissa Begonia speaks today at the National Annual Women's Conference of Labour Party
Good afternoon, delegates and an honour to be part of this important discussion.
My name is Marissa Begonia, I’m a Unite the union rep for migrant domestic workers and the founding member of the self-organised group called The Voice of Domestic Workers campaigning for our rights and welfare in the UK and I’m a domestic worker myself, a very decent job that allowed me to provide decent living for my children and above all Domestic workers allowed other work sectors to work. we care for children, the elderly, and the disabled and a household managers as cleaners, cook, gardeners, launderers and so on. A multi-skilled workers that this government classified as low-skilled and un-important workers and the only group of migrant workers who are not allowed to renew visa.
During the long year pandemic lockdown, when school children and parents were lockdown in private homes there were domestic workers who looked after these families’ health and well-being and yet these invisible work force are not even considered essential workers?
Domestic Workers were denied access to government furlough support leaving The Voice of Domestic Workers to act and fundraise, we have had supported over 150 members who have been terminated and infected leaving them unable to afford food. medicine and at risked of homelessness. Government also said that vaccine is for all but this is not the case for domestic workers who have no passport and proof of address therefore couldn’t registered to health centre and apply National Insurance number, a requirement to be able to access vaccine and healthcare
Riza told us;
‘’My employer questioned me why I am no longer smiling the way I used to. I told her that with her children and her husband at home during this lockdown, my workload has doubled. My body is very tired with no rest, no day-off and no extra payment, how could I smile?’’
‘’I was terminated with no notice and pay on the first lockdown. My employer suddenly asked me to pack my things without telling me if termination is permanent or temporary’’
‘’I wasn’t allowed to go out during the pandemic but this employer continue to received guests, they were infected and they infected me also. I was forced to look after them without providing me the PPE.
I went to vaccination centre, they asked of of ID and employer letter which I didn’t have so they asked me out.
Even before pandemic Migrant Domestic Workers were already very vulnerable because our work is isolated and no one knows what’s happening behind closed doors and what makes these vulnerability worst was when the government removed the rights of domestic workers in 2012 unable to access justice when at the end of their 6 months overseas domestic worker visa, they all became undocumented.
This is the story of Macy..
My employers who brought me here in the UK were abusive, Female employer would beat me and male employer would sexually assault me. I was not allowed to sit down. I am on call even I was sleeping already. This employer would never call me in my name but animal and dog. I worked almost 24 hours because I slept with the children’s room on the floor so when the children were awake, I would wake-up too. I only ate once a day. I drank water to survive. But I realised how long my body could take the physical, verbal and sexual abuse I have had to suffer? I am a single mother who just want a good future for my child and a better life for my family.
So I escape, that time it was raining, I didn’t have money and no clothes and I was very scared because I didn’t even know where I was going. But escaping is not all, because I found-out that I couldn’t renew visa therefore I became undocumented, unable to escape abuse and powerless to fight back. I am stuck until now.
This is Lyn story..
When the lockdown started in March, I became lonely and traumatised again. My employer threatened me, telling me if I leave the house, ‘Do not come back!’ I had no choice but to stay in my employer’s household, or else be jobless and homeless. To continue supporting my family, I am working 105 hours a week – including during my days off which pays me only £3.80 per hour. I recently received a negative conclusive decision in my NRM case. I am scared if I overstay I will be arrested and deported back home unprepared financially and unstable emotionally and mentally. I tried to be lawful but there is fire wherever I step! Why am I at risk of prosecution, not the employer who abused me?’
Witnessing and hearing these again and again, I couldn’t help not to be angry. I am so angry! I am angry on how the system facilitates abuse and continue to systematically torture migrant domestic workers. Coming here in the UK and after fleeing from abusive employers could be a life changing, we can do so much to help them rebuild their lives but what are we doing? What kind of system we have here in the Uk? A system that practices Kefalla like the Gulf countries? A system that criminalised domestic workers? And Government is so proud of their Modern slavery Act as best in the world? As world leader in ending modern slavery and trafficking? It is never too late to make this right for domestic workers by reinstating the rights on overseas domestic worker visa, a visa that implemented by Labour Government in 1998 with the support of cross party, The overseas domestic worker visa that had been proven as best prevention against modern slavery and trafficking.
Last 16th of June, we celebrated the International Domestic Workers Day which is celebrated globally since the international labour standard on Convention 189 decent work for domestic workers was voted and adopted in June 11, 2011 which at that time UK shamefully abstained saying domestic workers in the UK are already best protected , you’ve hear the testimonies of Jenny, Riza, Macy Lyn Gene Gracia and many domestic workers who entered in the UK since 2012 abused and exploited with no escape route. We are women who only want the best for our children and families. I hope everyone in this conference will support our call to reinstate the pre-2012 rights of migrant domestic workers – these rights are right to change employer, right to renew visa and right citizenship. We are also calling for the ratification and implementation of ILO C189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers. Dignity begins at home, Domestic workers are workers, domestic work is work. Thank you so much for listening.