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We’re here to help - Rescuing Domestic Workers

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

My name is Marigold. I am one of the members of The Voice Domestic Workers' a self-help group run by and for migrant domestic workers campaigning for our rights and welfare in the U.K. The Voice of Domestic Workers was established in 2009 and the charity is 13 years old now. We provide I.T. classes , English classes, Body, Mind wellness workshop, Financial Fitness, Media & Communication workshop and skills training like first aid and livelihood training. We also provide one to one counseling and Doctors of the World service. There are migrant domestic workers who come to our meetups every Sunday to learn, there are those who need help and support. These overseas domestic workers have found us through word of mouth, social media or perhaps by a card they’ve been handed by our network who go to parks where overseas domestic workers meet. The cards have “we are here to help” translated into different languages. When we hear domestic workers are in danger or being abused, we go and rescue them from their abusive employer and we would shelter them temporarily.

The Voice of Domestic Workers are able to support exploited domestic workers in many ways for example by providing temporary shelter, giving food or even a travel allowance to find work, getting them a new passport and educating them about their rights. Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) can come to the UK provided they’ve been employed by an employer as a domestic worker in a private household for at least a year or so, wherever country they come from.

Under the Overseas Domestic Worker Visa (ODW Visa) rules MDWs were able to accompany their employers. While working in the UK, all employment rights applied to domestic workers which recognised domestic workers as workers. But the UK government changed immigration rules in 2012 creating a hostile environment by changing policies to make it harder for migrants and refugees to work, remain and live. One of the changes was the removal of rights of migrant domestic workers that they enjoyed for decades making domestic workers the biggest casualty of this hostile environment. These rights included the right to change employer, right to renew visa, right to indefinite leave to remain and right to British citizenship. In 2015 a concession was made with the reinstatement of the right to change employer within 6 months entry of the Overseas Domestic Worker Visa. But in reality migrant domestic workers are still in a tied visa system by not allowing us to renew our Overseas Domestic Worker visa making us all undocumented.

My employer brought me here to the UK in 2013. I escaped from this employer who exploited me. I didn't just work for one family but three families. I worked long hours everyday. I didn’t have proper accommodation, my bed was under the dining table on the floor so it was freezing cold. The food I ate was leftover food and if there was none, there was nothing to eat.

That's why I made up my mind and decided to escape because I couldn’t bear it anymore. When I left I didn't have my passport because my employer had confiscated and kept my passport. I met someone in the park who was also a domestic worker who helped me. When I left I didn't know what was going to happen to me. I became undocumented which was very difficult because I couldn’t work. But I had courage and I learned to survive. Every Time I saw police in the street my body would shake. There was a time when immigration enforcers knocked on our door. I hid at the back and survived not being arrested.. It was so hard to be treated like a criminal, the only thing I wanted is to work so I could provide for my family, the very reason why I sacrificed to be far away from them.

It was 2015 when I found The Voice of Domestic Workers through social media. With the help of Marissa Begonia, Founder and Director of VODW, she encouraged me to join the organisation which changed me a lot. I became a fighter to stand up and be the voice of my own rights. They empowered and educated me which really helped me gain self confidence. I found family and a lot of friends . But in 2018 Immigration enforcer came to my house because someboody in my building reported those who were undocumented. It was 6 A.M. in the morning . I was in the toilet when I heard them walking up the stairs. They knocked on every door. I stayed for a while before I went out and they were waiting for me. That's the time they ask me for an I.D. I didn’t have any as I left it behind when I fled my employer so they brought me to Immigration Detention and interrogated me. They referred me into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) a framework to identify whether or not I would be considered a victim of modern slavery and trafficking. I also asked them why they arrested me, ‘Is escaping from abusive employment a crime?’ As I was already an active member of The Voice of Domestic Workers I already knew how to deal with the situation when I faced the police and immigration enforcers. It really helped me a lot that I am an empowered worker.

I have no idea when the decision on my NRM decision will be given. I’ve been waiting since Decemeber 2018 when I was referred to the NRM and given a ‘positive reasonable ground decision that identified me as a potential victim of modern slavery and trafficking” and since then, I have been waiting for a conclusive decision which could be negative or positive.

If positive I would be given a 1 year Overseas Domestic Worker Visa renewable for another 1 year which will give me the right to work. If I am given a negative decision which means that I am not a victim of modern slavery and trafficking immigration enforcers can arrest me again and I am likely to be deported. I don't know what will happen.

But I will continue to help and support my fellow domestic workers especially during this summer. We will be handling this ‘’We are here to help card’’ again to playgrounds, parks or any other place so we can rescue domestic workers who need to be rescued. I share my story so others could be aware and support our campaign to reinstate the rights on overseas domestic worker visa that have been taken from us in 2012. I am the living evidence of how this NRM failed to protect migrant domestic workers. After all, this government enforced this NRM system on us and we have no choice but to undergo the system because they removed our rights and replaced this with trafficking law when we are workers of our own rights.

It is upsetting how backwards the UK is as a first world country when there is already an International Labour Standard Domestic Workers Convention 189 that protects and recognises domestic workers as workers and gives us power for better rights, collective bargaining and right to join association. To date, there are 35 countries that have already ratified this ILO C189, 10 from Europe but UK is not one of them.VODW is also campaigning to ratify and implement the ILO C189 and this was the highlight of our International Domestic Workers Day celebration last June 16, 2022. VODW wanted to renew the commitments of the government, employers, sending countries and civil society. We are not victims of trafficking but workers whose rights have been removed and denied. We continue to be visible in British society so everybody values our work, without us domestic workers how could others do their work? Love begins at home - we left our home country for our love to our family and our domestic work requires care and love for the family we work with but we also need to be loved.

About the author

Marigold is a domestic worker and a spokesperson for “The Voice Domestic Workers. She joined The Voice of Domestic Workers in 2015 and has been involved in rescuing fellow domestic workers who have fled abusive employers like mine and finding safety for them.

She is a fearless frontline campaigner who is not afraid to have her voice heard by the Home Office. I have also been a representative of VODW to parliament Policy Lobbying.

Find out more about the Voice of Domestic Workers Future Voices programme #VODWFutureVoices and follow The Voice of Domestic Workers @thevoiceofdws

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