LONDON - Some 50 domestic workers with their supporters marched to the Houses of Parliament in the heart of the London borough of the City of Westminster to protest the recent changes in immigration policies for overseas domestic workers or ODW.
They convened at Trafalgar Square on Sunday and marched down to the Houses of Parliament carrying placards and shouting a unified chant: ‘Stop abuse of domestic workers.’
“Lahat ng dadating ngayon sa United Kingdom, di na pwedeng magtagal. Pwede lang hanggang anim na buwan at pagkatapos, they have to go back sa bansang kanilang pinanggalingan,” Aida Dunlea of United Workers Association or UWA told ABS-CBN Europe.
Dunlea was a domestic worker in Singapore for 10 years. She had an opportunity to work in the UK or 5 years, also as a DH. Now, she helps Filipino domestic workers who fled from their abusive employers.
“Kami ay natatakot na ang abuso sa mga domestic worker ay magaganap uli. Mga sampung taon kaming nag-rally para mabigyan sila ng work visa, bigla na lang uling tinanggal ng gobyerno,” she said.
Members of the Philippine Muslim Association of UK were also at the rally to give support to their kababayan from Mindanao. Attan Abdurajak said many of their Muslim sisters have experienced abuse while working with their employers from the Middle East. When they had a chance to leave their employers here in London, many of them have sought refuge in their organization.
“Dahil marami sila (domestic workers) sa Arab world na dinadala ng amo nila dito kaya parating pa ang mga taga-Mindanao dito at tumutulong kami sa kanila,” said Abdurajak.
“Ang pinaglalaban namin yung for humanity, ang mga workers na ito ay pareho ng residents ng UK na tax payer kahit sila bago na dumating, tax payer pa rin sila. Kaya itong bagong batas di sangayon sa karapatang pantao o human rights,” he added.
The new immigration rules for ODW stipulate that from 6 April 2012, domestic workers who apply to accompany their employers to the UK will be tied to one employer. If they experience abuse and exploitation they will face the options of continuing to suffer, flee and become illegal or go back to their country.
This provision in the new system, according to Dunlea and Abdurajak, will put Pinoy DH back into the ‘days of slavery.’
ODW in private households
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) started to implement on April 6 the changes in the new immigration rules covering ODW. The key changes are the following:
• Entry into the UK will be limited to a maximum of six months, with no extensions beyond this time;
• ODW will only be able to enter the UK when they are accompanying their employer (or his spouse or child) who is also coming to the UK at the same time as a visitor or who has come here in that capacity;
• ODW will be required to leave the UK at the same time as their employer;
• ODW will not be able to change employer whilst in the UK; and,
• ODW will not be able to apply for settlement in the UK.
Lira Simon Cabatbat, is the principal of Douglass Simon Solicitors, specializing in matters of Immigration Law, Human Rights and Family Law. She has been involved in securing the rights of overseas domestic workers facing servitude and exploitation.
Cabatbat explained that because of years of campaigning by lobby groups for the rights of domestic workers, in 1997 the government heard their appeal and changes were made to rules governing domestic workers. It led to the Domestic Worker Concession or Regularization program in 1997 and, eventually, a Domestic Worker visa category in 2002 within the Immigration Rules (HC 395).
“Those like me, who were involved in the campaign, knew only too well that the changes were desperately needed, given the catalogue of abuse and exploitation recorded against domestic workers. This all changed on the 6th of April 2012,” said Cabatbat.
She also added that with the recent changes, ODW ‘have lost the protection and recognition as workers they have had for the last 15 years.’
“The changes will very likely mean that we will be back to the bad old days when domestic workers who are subjected to appalling treatment will be faced with the stark decision of falling foul of Immigration Rules or accepting the abusive treatment met to them,” she expressed.
For Pinoy domestic workers who have experienced the difficulty of running away from their employers and inhumane treatment, the campaign for the reversal of immigration policy is what they can offer to help fellow domestic workers who are yet to come to the UK.
“Pinaglalaban namin na sana ibalik ang aming karapatan kasi tinanggal na ang aming karapatan so gusto naming ibalik ang work visa, lalo na para sa mga sumusunod sa amin,” said 64-year-old Gloria Cunanan.
“Napakahirap ayon sa aking experience. Kasi kung wala ka ditong karapatan, unang-una mararanasan mo ang ma-abuse,” she added.
Rossann Reyes worked with an employer who took her to London from the Middle East. But she didn’t like the way she was treated.
“Yung trato sa amin wala kaming holiday, magigising kami ng 6 a.m., matutulog kami ng 12 a.m. yung wala ka bang pahinga, yung pagkain mo wala sa oras,” she said.
She was lucky to be able to transfer to a better employer. Her presence in the rally is for the right of the future generation of ODW in the UK.
“Kasi meron pang mga dadayo dito na galing sa ibang bansa hindi lang sa UAE. Sana mabigyan sila ng pagkakatong magtrabo sa UK,” she added.
UK’s selective visa system
The Coalition government has introduced a complete makeover of the immigration rules to attract fewer but better qualified migrants to live and work in the UK. Preferential treatment is given to migrants who can contribute capital, skills and brain to the UK to boost the country’s economic recovery.
The government also reduced the number of immigrants by introducing tougher measures to remove illegal migrants and catch people breaking immigration rules.
The government also made it harder to sponsor spouses or partners of British citizens and person settled in the UK with the introduction of a salary threshold and higher level of English language.
The UK government has justified its tougher immigration policies because of the country’s state of economy.