Migrant domestic workers

close up photo of hands washing up

Yunus was trafficked from India to the UK to work in domestic service. © Pete Pattisson

Migrant domestic workers are frequently exploited and many are trafficked for forced labour. Trafficking involves transporting people away from their communities and forcing them to work
against their will using violence, coercion or deception. They are often deceived by job offers abroad and on arrival are forced to work in terrible conditions. Some fall into debt bondage, owing a huge debt to those who recruited them and paid for their travel abroad.

In many countries their right to work is tied to a specific employer. If they leave, however slavery-like their situation, they will be deported and lose their livelihood altogether. Language and isolation make it difficult for them to seek help.

Kalayaan is a charity which provides advice and support to migrant domestic workers in the UK. Evidence collected by the charity in 2006-7 shows the level of abuse and exploitation suffered by domestic workers in the UK.

A quarter of those interviewed reported physical abuse such as being beaten or slapped, things being thrown at them, spitting in the face and pulling the hair. 9% reported sexual abuse. 69% reported psychological abuse. Nearly two thirds said they were not allowed out of the house without their employer's permission, and nearly one third had their passports taken from them by their employer. Two thirds reported working sixteen or more hours a day, seven days a week with no meal breaks.

Case study - Yunus from India

Below you can read about how Yunus was treated when he was trafficked from India to the UK to work in domestic service. You can read about the experiences of other domestic workers in the exhibition and on the Anti-Slavery International website.

"When I first joined the family, they said I would work for eight hours a day. They promised it wasn't hard work and that I'd get one day off every week. Then after my visa was sorted and they knew I couldn't go anywhere, everything changed.

They would scream abuse at me and call me 'dog', 'monkey', 'madman'. Sometimes they'd grab my ear. Sometimes they wouldn't give me food. The family would always call me in the middle of the night to do jobs for them. I got no rest. When I told the father of the family that I wanted to leave, he threatened to hand me over to the police."

Yunus from India. Taken from 'Forgotten but not Gone: Slavery and Resistance 200 years after abolition', Pete Pattisson, 2007.