Marissa Begonia, a leading campaigner for the rights of migrant domestic worker and spokesperson for Justice for Domestic Workers was presented with a Human Trafficking Foundation Media Awards at a House of Lords ceremony this week.
The Anti-Slavery International award was presented to Ms Begoina by immigration minister Damian Green. Taking advantage of this rare opportunity for a domestic worker to speak directly to power, she used the opportunity of her acceptence speech to set out a blistering critique of the government’s plans to scrap the current domestic worker visa which has given migrant workers in this sector a degree of security of status for over ten years.
She opened her message of thanks by explaining how migrant workers can fall into situations of exploitation and abuse when they find themselves working in the households of unscrupulous employers. “Many of us have had to put up with abuse or to escape and sleep in parks, being exposed to all kinds of physical, mental and sexual abuse. Not all of us have managed to escape from our abusive employers and sadly many of us are still locked in private households.”
She went on to welcome the adoption of legislation which criminalised the act of forced labour with the prospect of a 14 year prison sentence for abusive employers. But she argued that an additional element of support came from the fact that the domestic worker visa encouraged workers suffering these conditions to leave abusive employers and seek new jobs in the same sector of work.
With the minister still present, she then opened up with a salvo of criticism directed against plans by the government to scrap this visa and drastically limit work opportunities. She referred to research by Kalaayan which showed that migrant domestic workers working in diplomatic households, who are not able to change employer, are 20 times more likely to find themselves in conditions of slavery. In the light of this she asked, “Why the government is considering removing a visa that has been proven to significantly reduce the abuse and exploitation of domestic workers?”
The contribution was reported to present Mr Green with ‘an awkward moment.’ Ms Begonia has made it clear that her commitment to frankness and determined advocacy on behalf of her fellow domestic workers will not allow her to pull her punches on this issue.