OVER 200 migrant domestic workers and their supporters rallied at Old Palace Yard, opposite the House of Lords, from 11am to 1pm on Sunday.
The protest was organised by Justice 4 Domestic Workers, and supported by the Unite union, the TUC and Filipino organisation Kalayaan.
Justice 4 Domestic Workers (J4DW) is a domestic worker-led group formed in 2009 affiliated with Unite the union.
It has more than 500 members from different countries, mainly the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Morocco and Nigeria.
J4DW is campaigning for the retention of the domestic worker visa and for the government to sign and ratify ILO Convention 189 ‘Decent work for domestic workers’.
The ILO convention was passed in June 2011. The UK government, having committed to supporting a convention ‘in principle’, refused to vote to pass the convention.
The government abstained along with the Sudan, El Salvador and Malaysia. The only other EU country to abstain was the Czech Republic.
Justice 4 Domestic Workers warns that the Cameron government plans changes to immigration law that will: remove the domestic worker visa; impose a maximum stay of one year, non-renewable; impose no right to settlement, and tie migrant domestic workers to one employer.
Campaigners’ leaflets listed their demands as: ‘Retain the domestic worker visa and maintain the right to change employer.
‘Maintain our rights as workers and our rights to settlement. Equal rights and protection for domestic workers in diplomatic households.
‘Ratify and implement the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189 – Decent Work for Domestic Workers’.
The leaflets declared: ‘Domestic workers are not slaves, maids, servants or family members, WE ARE WORKERS – Come and support us!’
One worker told the rally: ‘My name is Luzviminda, a member of Justice 4 Domestic Workers. I am here today because I want to ask for equal rights for domestic workers who work for diplomats.
‘It is not fair that if we run away from a bad employer we become illegal.
‘We don’t want to hide, we don’t want to be scared anymore.’
‘I used to work in Kuwait as a domestic worker.
‘My employer came to London as a diplomat and he brought me with him.
‘I didn’t know anything about my rights when I came, no one told me and the diplomat deliberately kept me ignorant,’ she alleged.
She continued: ‘I thought it would be OK coming to London because I had worked for my employer before, but in Kuwait we had been two workers.
‘In London I was alone looking after his family of twelve people.
‘It was so terrible. The most terrible thing is that I could never hold my passport. I was so scared to go into the street in case the police would catch me.
‘And if I wanted to go out I had to be accompanied by someone, as if he was my bodyguard.
‘I worked all the time. I got up at 5am and sometimes I didn’t finish until one or two in the morning.
‘I had no rest, no day off. I got so tired and my salary is so small, only £50 a week.
‘I asked if I could go home to my country just to take some rest but the diplomat was not happy.
‘He said I could only go home once he finished his posting – I didn’t know when that would be, he never told me.
‘I later found out my visa was valid until 2013 – imagine having to work like that for many more years.
‘I didn’t know my visa was tied to the diplomat but I was still so scared of running away, I didn’t have my passport or any documents.
‘I phoned my family and they found out that my niece’s husband’s sister is in London. She helped me to run away from that house.’
Luzviminda concluded: ‘I will never get justice against that diplomat but I cannot go home.
‘I am lucky that I have a good employer now. We are trying to change my visa. I hope that one day no one will have to suffer like I did.’
Filipino Phoebe Dimacala told News Line: ‘I’m here because the government is planning to remove the domestic visa.
‘They want to implement that domestic workers cannot change employers – even if our employers beat us, maltreat us, not pay us enough wages.
‘Even if they don’t pay the minimum wage we can’t resist because we aren’t allowed to change employers.
‘They want to remove the settlement visa so there is no indefinite leave to remain any more.
‘They make a lot of money out of us.
‘We have to pay £750 each year to renew our visa.
‘Currently, after five years of yearly renewals we are allowed to apply for indefinite leave to remain.
‘If you are not allowed to renew your visa you would be illegal.’
Fellow Filipino Rosita Salvador agreed.
She said: ‘We are rallying because we need renewal of our visas.
‘We are domestic workers. We are not slaves. We have our papers.
‘After five years we have the right to stay here.
‘We have to renew our visa every year.
‘If we can’t renew our visa we can’t stay here.’
K. Naglaoui from Morocco told News Line: ‘We are fighting for our rights, to save our visas. The visa is our life in the UK.
‘The government are trying to stop the visa.
‘We are here to work and support our families back home.
‘We are all scared, we need to cover ourselves here.
‘We are working hard. If they stop our visa we can’t stop here in the UK.
‘Already most employers don’t pay the necessary wages, sick pay and holiday pay.
‘We want to keep our visas, get respect and better conditions at work.
‘We want a day off, holiday pay, and tax paid.’
Fouleva Adams from Nigeria said: ‘I am here because we don’t want a return to slavery.
‘If the government changes everything, it is no good for us.
‘We would become like slaves.
‘What the government plans would mean we can’t change our employers and get better conditions.
‘If they take our visas away, some will be working illegally and employers would take advantage of that to make our conditions even worse.’