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"Domestic Workers' Abuse Update"

November/December 1998 issue of Poverty & Race

In the November/December 1997 Poverty & Race, Martha Honey's lead article ("Slavery: 1997 Style") revealed the rampant abuse faced by many women who come to the U.S. under a special visa program to work as domestic workers for officials of international agencies. Every year, thousands of women come to the Washington, DC or New York City areas under G5 visas to work for employees of the World Bank, the United Nations and other international groups, or under A3 visas to work for embassy employees. Although these officials are required to abide by U.S. labor laws, abuse of the migrant workers is rampant. Most cases of exploitation go unreported, and most domestics suffer in silence. They are often trapped and isolated in their employers' homes, forced to work endless hours, silenced by threats of deportation and restricted from leaving the home.

Over the past year, a coalition of groups has formed to strengthen protections for these vulnerable G5 and A3 workers. The Campaign for Migrant Domestic Workers Rights, coordinated by the Institute for Policy Studies, with participation from legal aid, religious, labor and human rights groups, is pursuing a number of strategies:

· The Campaign is negotiating with the World Bank to strengthen oversight of Bank employees who have
hired domestics under the visa program and to help support social services for the domestic workers. Currently, World Bank officials employ 790 G5 workers.

· The Campaign has helped to connect legal services with GS workers who have suffered abuse. Currently, a DC-based lawyer, Mark Schaefer, is representing a Tanzanian former domestic worker, Maria Khanga, in a case against her former employer, a UN official, for failure to pay her any salary during two years of work. Schaefer is attempting to negotiate an out-of-court settlement; if that fails, the case will go to court next year. Earlier this year, D.C. lawyer Edward Leavy successfully negotiated a settlement for another domestic worker employed by a Seneglese official with the UN.

· In addition, the Campaign is gathering information on resources available to domestic workers (legal, social, language training, etc.) to put in a multi-lingual brochure for distribution through churches, U.S. embassies and other outlets.

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