Migrant rights abuses can quite easily go unnoticed behind closed doors and the government were wrong to scrap the visa that offered protection and support.
Following the convictions for one of the most shocking slavery cases in modern times, many are searching for answers to how an atrocity thought to be eradicated carried on unnoticed for so long in modern society.
Fraser Nelson, in the Telegraph, said:
“It says much about British society that a man can disappear, be kept as a slave in Bedfordshire for 15 years and have no one inquire about him.“
The men, a mix of Polish, Romanian, Russian and British, were approached by members of the Connors family at soup kitchens and homeless shelters and offered accommodation and food in exchange for manual labour.
Instead, the men were faced with cramped, unheated living conditions, with no washing facilities and very little food.
The Overseas Domestic Workers visa was introduced in 1998 and allowed migrant workers to change jobs, challenge their employers in tribunals and exercise their right to the national minimum wage while working in the UK.
The government’s decision to reform this visa earlier this year was a huge blow for migrant workers, forcing the rights of migrant workers to take a backseat.
[The prime minister] cares enough to have recruited his nanny from a charity that helps immigrant domestic workers escape abusive employers. But in April, his government abolished the Overseas Domestic Worker visa that allowed them to do so legally.
Under the new laws (part of Mr Green’s immigration crackdown), domestic workers no longer have the right to change jobs once they arrive in Britain. So if they do escape their employer, they will have to do so illegally. In this way, a whole new group of workers is pushed closer towards the criminal underworld.
It is quite possible for ministers to write off each of these incidents as a freakish, isolated tragedy. The alternative is to admit that slavery is back in Britain, and is a more complicated problem than trafficking ever was. A new Slavery Act could close any remaining loopholes, make clear to police what they should be looking for, and give them the powers they need to act.
Left Foot Forward reported last year:
Why would the coalition government remove protections for domestic workers? The government wants to reduce the UK’s net long-term migration levels, in response to public concerns about immigration.
If the domestic worker route is to continue, it will be limited to a short-term, non-renewable visa, probably tied to one employer. The coalition government claims this will allow employers time to recruit domestic workers instead from within the UK.
• Time to talk about integration 6 Mar 2012
But there is little evidence to support the claim that demand for domestic workers can be satisfied from within the domestic labour market. Instead, the danger here is that a space will be left wide open for a grey economy based on exploitation of migrants within private households.
By scrapping the migrant domestic worker visa, or by greatly restricting it, the coalition government would greatly set the UK back in its protection of vulnerable workers. The need to protect these workers has now been recognised internationally – we should be leading the way by making sure these standards are fully implemented in the UK.
I grew up in Leighton Buzzard and felt incredibly safe there, which makes it all the more shocking to discover that something so appalling took place in a small market town relatively free from serious crime.
Yet the location for this current atrocity just goes to prove that migrant rights abuses can quite easily go unnoticed behind closed doors and the government were wrong to scrap the visa that offered protection and support.
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