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Challenging modern slavery

June 2011

Charlotte Marshall, Christian Aid’s communications officer for the Middle East, recently travelled to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to see the work our partners there do to challenge poverty and injustice.

Here she speaks about her visit to our partner Kav LaOved’s who work to advise and represent migrant workers in Israel.  

‘We may be paid in salaries – but we’re not paid in rights’

 

‘We may be paid in salaries – but we’re not paid in rights.’

This is the first of many harrowing things I’ll hear today as I take a seat in Kav LaOved’s office in Israel. This partner of Christian Aid has opened its drop in centre for migrant workers in the domestic sector today. There are queues of Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Indians and other migrants, seeking advice on their employment rights.

I’m invited to join a group of women who are working in the care-giving industry. I quickly realise that the working life I lead in England is drastically different to the lives of these women. Migrant workers live with their employers, most of whom are elderly and infirm, for 24 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, often on less than the minimum wage.

As Baly, who is 53 and is attending today’s session, explains, ‘I used to be paid 2,900 Israeli shekels (approximately £520) per month – 1,000 shekels less than the minimum wage. Then I came to Kav LaOved and they wrote to my employer for me, demanding a fair salary.’

Fair pay is not the only thing that these women have to worry about. Sat opposite me is Pearl from Sri Lanka. She has been subjected to physical, verbal and sexual abuse in the home of her employer.

She describes her experience, ‘I worked for a woman who is infirm. Every day I had to lift her from the bed to the chair – she weighs 90kg, but I had to do it on my own. The son, he’s bad. One day he asked me for sex – I said that I’m not like that, I’m not here for that, I’m here to work.

‘He left me alone for a while, then he asked me again for sex, and when I said no he threatened me. I told him I’d call the police, then one morning in the kitchen he threw boiling water in my face.

‘I was in such shock I didn’t know what to do, so I just ran out of the house and down the road. I sat on a wall and cried.’

These are just some of the stories I heard and each and every one of them cut right through my heart.

These are ordinary women, making a living and supporting their families back home, contributing to economies around the world, yet they are vulnerable and unprotected. Their experiences are repeated around the world – and this is why we need international action.

How you can help

It’s time that we stopped the abuse and you have a chance to act today. The International Labour Organization has been debating a possible new law to ensure rights for domestic workers worldwide, and Christian Aid is working alongside our partners, like Kav LaOved, to do what we can to ensure this new international law is passed.

Write to UK business secretary, Vince Cable, and call on the UK government to back the proposed new convention to protect these vulnerable workers around the world from physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

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Call on the UK government to support the rights of domestic workers in the Middle East and Asia.

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