Migrant workers who come to Britain as cooks, cleaners and nannies could become virtual slaves in their employers' homes under new immigration rules, campaigners are warning. Ministers faced charges of hypocrisy as Labour campaigned on the issue in opposition, highlighting accusations of sexual abuse, physical assault and poverty pay regularly faced by foreign domestic staff.
17,000 non-European Union foreign nationals receive visas every year to work as domestic servants in Britain.
They are legally entitled to leave their employer if they are abused or exploited and to receive basic protection - including the minimum wage - under UK employment law.
That will be swept away by proposed changes to immigration rules, which will severely restrict domestic workers' rights.
In future domestic workers will only be allowed in on non-renewable business visas which will end their ability to get a new job if they are mistreated by their employer.
Kate Roberts, a community support worker , which counsels the victims of abusive employers, said she was horrified by the Government's change of heart. "These changes will remove the most basic protection for migrant domestic workers," she said. "They will be left incredibly vulnerable to exploitation or abuse."
Barbara Roche, a former immigration minister, said: " These new proposals are a very retrograde step. Workers who suffer abuse from employers will feel absolutely alone. "
Diana Holland, the T&G National Organiser for Women, Race and Equalities, said that until 1998 the visa system had turned "migrant domestic workers into slaves". She warned that Home Office policy reversal would strip them of their right to challenge and would once again mean abuse going unchecked.
This month's Socialist Standard carries an editorial on slavery