Mimi Jalmasco ‘A DECADE WITHOUT RIGHTS:  UK Migrant Domestic Workers campaign for change’

It has been 10 years since the Overseas Domestic Workers visa was changed. Migrant domestic workers have endured 10 years being trapped working for abusive employers following changes in 2012. Workers and their supporters have lobbied and campaigned for changes to the ODW visa so that workers have certain rights that would keep them safe at work and be able to challenge abuse when it arises. Here Mimi shares her experience and why she's speaking out.

I want to be recognised as a worker and not victim of modern slavery or trafficking.”

On the 6th April 2012 the government removed the rights of migrant domestic workers when they changed the provisions of the Overseas Domestic Worker (ODW) Visa. These rights are the right to change employer without restrictions, the right to renew the Overseas Domestic Workers visa, the right to settlement and the right to British citizenship.

As a migrant domestic worker (MDW) I’ve been through a lot of trauma. I was found to be a victim of modern slavery and trafficking, and even then my employer would still take advantage of me. But when no one was there to help and support me, the Voice of Domestic Workers has been my refuge and support.

The Voice of Domestic Workers (VODW) is an education and support group calling for justice and rights for Britain’s 16,000 migrant domestic workers. Our work seeks to end discrimination and protect MDWs living in the UK by campaigning and providing education, training, healthcare and legal advice. VODW has been campaigning to reinstate the pre-2012 domestic workers’ rights. 

Every year, around 23,000 migrant domestic workers enter the UK brought by their foreign employer using a six month non-renewable private domestic worker visa. In 2012, the UK Government scrapped all the rights of migrant domestic workers. They became the sacrificial lambs of the political game of the Conservative and Liberal Government without considering the effect it would have.  In 1998 when the Overseas Domestic Worker Visa was implemented by cross-party decision the UK acknowledged that migrant domestic workers are the most vulnerable group of workers therefore they needed to be specially protected, the more the vulnerable the workers are, the more protection and rights they need. 

Since 2012 the overseas domestic worker visa has been categorised as ‘Tier 5’ Temporary Workers with no ability to renew our visas therefore many of us became undocumented with no recourse to justice and employment rights.  In 2015, the government reviewed the Modern Slavery Bill now Modern Slavery Act in their pledge to tackle the ‘Barbaric Evil of modern slavery’. VODW fought very hard for domestic workers’ rights to be reinstated but we were unsuccessful. In 2016, the Government announced that they had already ‘untied’ the Tied Visa system of the Overseas Domestic Worker visa which means that domestic workers could already change employers. But this was misleading, this six months Overseas Domestic Worker Visa is non-renewable so we are unable to continue working past the six months with a new employer. Therefore, at the end of our six months visa we still become undocumented and powerless, leaving us vulnerable to abusive employers who hold this power over us.

“I left my home country not to depend on support from the government or any charities and organisations because I am strong, I can work the very reason I sacrificed not seeing my children for many years now to be able to provide for their needs, education and I dreamed of a better life for my children.

I came here to the UK from Dubai with my employers in 2014, I was abused and exploited. I had been undocumented for two years before I found the Voice of Domestic Workers in 2016. I was unaware that I had no right to renew my Overseas Domestic Workers visa and my passport was confiscated by my employer. I couldn’t fight back about the physical assault I suffered in the hands of my employer. I was starved and only survived with water from the tap, I even had to hide in the toilet to be able to drink water. I was referred to the National Referral Mechanism, a mechanism that assesses whether or not a person is a victim of modern slavery and trafficking. It was the only option in front of me to be safe or else I would be  deported. Without the right to work, I was living on only £5 a day to survive. I became more vulnerable and hopeless.

I was granted a nonrenewable two-year domestic worker visa and then the Covid-19 pandemic happened. Because I didn’t find a decent job right away, my visa has been wasted. My two-year Overseas Domestic Worker Visa was granted following a positive response from the National Referral Mechanism NRM. But the time is ticking on my visa and I don’t know what’s going to happen in my new application. Why is there a limit to how long I could remain and work? How could I rebuild my life in such a short period of time?

At the Voice of Domestic Workers we’re hearing of migrant domestic workers having been exploited in their workplace during the lockdown, long hours of work with the same pay, others got terminated from work without notice and weren’t able to  access the furlough scheme. I have been raising my voice to make the policies right for migrant domestic workers. We have suffered for too long. I hope people and the government recognise the valuable contribution of MIgrant Domestic Workers as carers to children, the elderly, the disabled and as household workers. Our economic contribution is visible because it is us domestic workers who allow other work sectors to be able to work. We care for families that are made-up of society. 

I continue to develop my skills to become an effective campaigner and I am one of the 12 participants of the VODW Future Voices in collaboration with charity Sounddelivery Media. I have the opportunity to use my lived experiences and be a confident public speaker and campaigner. 

It is unacceptable and unjust that for a decade migrant domestic workers have had no rights, why has everyone turned a blind eye on the rights and safety of migrant domestic workers?

About the Author: 

Mimi is a full-time domestic worker and a mother of three, from Manila, Philippines. In the hope of enabling a bright future for her children free from poverty Mimi decided to work overseas as a domestic worker first working in Dubai, UAE in 2013 where she was abused.  It was when she was brought by her employers to London where she managed to free herself from the abuses of her employers.  She was identified as a victim of modern slavery and granted a two year domestic worker visa. She is now working as a nanny/ housekeeper in Hackney and is a trustee of the Voice of Domestic Workers and a frontline campaigner to restore the pre-2012 domestic worker visa. She is part of the Voice of Domestic Future Voices Programme.

@mvj_mimi03 https://www.thevoiceofdomesticworkers.com/futurevoices

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