Exploited worker 'went four years without being paid'

By Rahila Bano
BBC Asian Network

Image caption,
Jenny Moss, of the Kalayaan charity, says more needs to be done to help foreign domestic workers

When Salma moved to the UK from Pakistan in 2006 she had the promise of a job, regular wage and a new future for her family.

But those hopes of earning enough to help her parents in Pakistan soon evaporated when the promises were replaced with a much harsher reality.

Forced to work without pay and cut off from life outside the home where she worked, Salma (not her real name) said she was left feeling trapped and helpless in an unfamiliar country.

Charity workers say hers is a typical story of the minority of foreign workers who come to the UK on work permits but are exploited by employers once they arrive.

Sitting in her friend's lounge in East Lancashire, the domestic worker said: "Before I came to England I was told by him (her employer) that I would be looking after his family as they needed someone to do the housework.

"In Pakistan he said I'd be paid 10,000 rupees a month (about £90) so I said yes but when I got here he kept fobbing me off.

"I thought I could buy a house with it in Pakistan and look after my mum and dad.

"I worked from six in the morning to 10 or 11 at night. But I didn't mind that as this is what I came here to do.

"But he also made me work at his warehouse in Manchester, lifting heavy boxes. I never agreed to that.

Arrest threat

"Not being paid is the worst thing. I've been waiting four-and-a-half years to be paid."

Salma, who says she was entirely reliant on hand-outs from her boss and his wife, and her sister had worked for her employer's extended family in Pakistan so legally she was allowed to work in the UK.

She says she was forced to leave her employer's house after he assaulted her. He also threatened to call the police and have her arrested for asking for her salary, she said.

Like many migrant workers, Salma does not speak English and wasn't allowed to speak to anyone who was not a member of her employer's family. She said she did not know about her rights.

Kalayaan is a London-based charity which offers advice and support to migrant workers who have been abused or exploited.

It says of the 17,000 people who come to the UK every year on work permits, many are well treated but a minority face abuse.

It is calling for domestic workers from abroad to be told about employment law and basic human rights by the UK government to stop abuse and exploitation.

Jenny Moss, of Kalayaan, said: "People often come to us saying they're made to work seven days a week.

"They don't know their rights and that's why we want more information made available to them before they come here so they know what to do (and) who to turn to for help. "

Hidden problem

Salma said she left the house about two months ago and with help from a friend she turned up on the doorstep of Pendle borough councillor Eileen Ansar for help because she had nowhere else to go.

Although Salma's case is the only case Mrs Ansar has come across, she said the misuse of domestic workers was a hidden problem.

She said: "We need them to come forward and tell us what's going on and we need to help them."

Not knowing English and not realising the treatment she received was illegal, Salma only went to the police after making contact with Mrs Ansar.

Lancashire Police are now investigating the allegations made by Salma.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said in a statement: "It's the worker's responsibility to ensure that they understand their employment rights when they accept a job and before coming to the UK.

"Information is already provided on the Directgov website."

Asian Network Reports broadcasts weekdays at 1230 and 1800 BST or listen again on the BBC iPlayer.

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