Campaigners from Unite, the UK’s biggest union, Justice for Domestic Workers (J4DW) and One Billion Rising UK gathered at Old Palace Yard, Westminster last Sunday 19 June to celebrate International Domestic Workers Day with a renewed call on the UK government to end tied visas for domestic workers.
Tied visas, which were introduced by the coalition government in 2012, have been roundly and continuously condemned by Unite, human rights groups, charities and Labour MPs for reintroducing a system of slavery of migrant domestic workers.
Under the current system migrant domestic workers cannot legally leave their employer and find new work, leaving thousands of workers potentially trapped in abusive situations.
Unite is urging David Cameron to give domestic workers back their rights and dignity which his government cruelly snatched when it abolished the 1998 Overseas Domestic Workers Visa.
It further calls on the Prime Minister to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers to ensure a minimum standard of protection of this vulnerable workforce.
Sunday’s event was one of celebration, defiance and solidarity with speakers including Unite assistant general secretary, Diana Holland, Sean Bamford (Policy Officer European Union and International Relations of Trade Union Congress – TUC), Monique Wilson (One Billion Rising Global Director), Tanya Anastasiadis and Thea Tadiar Everley (One Billion Rising UK coordinators), Fiona MacTaggart (Labour MP for Slough), and Marissa Begonia (J4DW Coordinator). Moving testimonies on the lives of domestic workers were led by J4DW members Saroj Toppo (Chairperson J4DW UK), Rowena Rimpas and Noani Mukromin. Eliza Lizardo led members of J4DW in a rousing song and the event culminated with the energized dancing and call to Rise for Revolution – with the “Break The Chain” dance anthem of One Billion Rising. Moving tributes were also made for murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, who stood against all forms of social exclusion, and who fought against discrimination and oppression and exploitation in her political work.
Diana Holland Unite assistant general secretary said: “International Domestic Workers Day celebrates the achievements of domestic workers globally in winning an international labour standard to protect and empower these workers. Unite represents and campaigns with migrant domestic workers for justice.
“Today we are calling for the UK government to play its part and ratify the ILO convention – achieving the minimum labour standard of protection every domestic worker worldwide should be able to count on. When Labour introduced migrant domestic workers rights in 1998, they ended modern day slavery.
“The coalition government turned back the clock on this tremendous advance, and we need action now to right this wrong.”
Marissa Begonia, Justice for Domestic Workers coordinator said: “The tied visa system has exposed this already vulnerable workforce to even greater risk of abuse and exploitation. The only way to protect and improve the precarious living conditions of migrant domestic workers is for the government to reinstate the rights of domestic workers and for the government to ratify the ILO Domestic Workers Convention 189 with immediate effect.”
Monique Wilson of One Billion Rising said: “State instituted exploitation must be fought against in all forms. Domestic work is work and must be recognized and respected as such. Workers are the life blood of countries that keep communities and societies going. We must rise against policies that continue that deny people their basic and fundamental human rights. We as a global movement, stand and rise in deepest solidarity with domestic workers in the UK – who have been the fuel and fire of One Billion Rising for the last four years – and with workers all over the world. We call on the world to rise in solidarity for their full human rights, their freedom, dignity, equality, their recognition and respect.”