The ban on diplomatic servants changing employers should be lifted to protect staff from abuse, an MP has urged parliament.
Anthony Steen, Conservative MP for Totnes, told Embassy that under the current immigration system, work permits for diplomatic domestic workers are linked to a specific mission, effectively trapping them with a potentially abusive employer who is immune from prosecution.
“While the majority of diplomats are good employers, a minority do exploit their servants,” explained Mr Steen. “There have been cases of domestic workers, mostly women, being treated as slaves. Their passports are removed, they are forced to live in squalid conditions and some are subjected to physical or sexual abuse by their employers.”
The Totnes MP said allowing domestic servants of diplomats the right to switch employers outside an embassy provided a vital escape route for vulnerable workers who had very little recourse to justice.
According to the Foreign Office, embassies found to have maltreated domestic workers faced the ultimate sanction of being removed from the UK Border Agency’s register of sponsors, but Mr Steen said this was an “empty threat” because most workers were too afraid to contact the police.
“Servants are terrified of deportation, many cannot speak English and some aren’t even allowed off the premises without a chaperone,” he explained.
Jenny Moss from Kalayaan, a charity for migrant workers, told Embassy a disproportionate number of their referrals to the Home Office’s Human Trafficking Centre involved the servants of diplomats. In 2008, 16,652 domestic worker visas were issued, of which around 300 were for diplomatic servants. Yet nine victims out of the charity’s 22 referrals over the past nine months were employed by diplomats, amounting to 40 per cent of their caseload.
“A change to the rules would alter the balance of power, giving domestic workers leverage to negotiate proper terms,” she said.
In November last year, Kalayaan, along with six members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking, met with Immigration Minister Phil Woolas to discuss the issue. Ms Moss said the Minister had been receptive to their arguments.