Human Rights Watch | Hidden Away: Abuses against Migrant Domestic Workers in the UK

Working and often living in other people’s homes, migrant domestic workers are among the most vulnerable workers, at risk of abuse and exploitation that often happens behind
closed doors, making it difficult for them to seek help, and for people on the outside to see what is happening.

Every year, around 15,000 migrant domestic workers, many of them women from Asia and Africa, travel to the UK with their employers to look after their children, care for their elderly parents, clean their houses, and cook for them.

This report documents the abuses and exploitation faced by these migrant domestic workers who travel to the UK with their employers and the challenges they can experience when seeking redress. This report does not, however, address issues faced by migrant domestic workers who arrived in the UK by other means, for instance as asylum seekers, spouses or who are European Economic Area nationals.

While the category of domestic workers in private households as defined by the Home Office also includes drivers and gardeners, the domestic workers interviewed for this report worked inside their employers’ homes as cleaners, nannies, cooks, and/or cared for their employer or a member of their employers’ family.

The report also sets out relevant domestic, European, and international law, which is supposed to safeguard the rights of migrant domestic workers in the UK.

The report finds that some employers subject domestic workers to abusive living and working conditions, including forced labour. Safeguards are inadequate to prevent abuses; to allow those who are abused to escape and find protection; or to hold those responsible to account.

The report also describes how two developments since April 2012 have undermined the British government’s obligations under national, international, and European human rights law to protect migrant domestic workers from employer abuse and provide them with ways to access justice. The first development is a new “tied visa” that eliminates migrant domestic workers’ right to change employer and find other full-time work—often the most feasible way to escape abusive situations; the second development is budget cuts that have limited the ability of migrant domestic workers to seek help, including from employment tribunals.

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