Workers’ Rights: 1998-2012: Khadija
My name is Khadija. My family was poor. I went to work in the garment factory in Morocco when I was 15. But the salary wasn't enough especially after my father passed away 1995 and I decided to go abroad to support my family. The easiest way to get a visa from Morocco is to go to the Middle East. I borrowed money for the visa and the contract and I left to work in Dubai. But it was a shock. I found my pay was less than I was earning in the factory. But what could I do? I can’t go back, I have no job and I have to repay the money, so I have to endure.
My contract was babysitting, but soon I was responsible for every single thing. After a year I was like her right hand. She trusts me a lot. I held the keys, picked up the kids from school, bought fabric and worked with tailors, bought presents for her friends. I was like her representative. At weddings I'm always by her side. She was like my friend. What upsets me is when my mother passed away 2006. In the Middle East you have two year contracts and in between that, whatever happens you cannot go home. My contract was 2003-5, so now I couldn’t go home until 2007. My employer said, “You don’t need to go now because she is not there, you are not going to see her.” Can you believe that she took me to Thailand to go shopping? I was crying on the airplane, I was crying all the time! I was just holding the shopping and crying, crying, crying. In the hotel, all the ten days, all the ten days was crying, and crying and crying. When we got back I asked her again, “Let me go home and see my sister so I'll just feel better”. She said "You know that the children are going back to school because it's September”. And again with different excuses until in August 2007 and then it was "Oh, you know now we are preparing ourselves to go to London and we need you to come."
So in 2007 we came to London. I escaped but I didn’t speak any English. I was sitting in Kings Cross with people coming and going. My clothes are from Dubai. It's like crazy cold. And then I was sitting there shaking. A security guy said to me “I saw you here from three o'clock and now it’s one in the morning. What you doing here? It's not allowed for you to be here, you will need to go out”. Later then I phoned the driver of my employer. I said “Please can you do a favour for me? I want you to drop me in the airport. I have £20. This is the last thing that I have”. He collected me and took me to his home. I explained to his wife. I have shower, I changed my clothes and I prayed. And then he called a woman who he said could find me a job. And then I stayed with the woman Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On Monday she put me in a job. It was £150 a week, Monday to Friday looking after two children, ten and eleven, cleaning three floors and I stayed with her one year and half. She renewed the visa 2008 and 2009. But the problem was she started telling me to go clean her mom's house. At that time, I didn't know anything about rights and the minimum wage and I thought if I said no maybe she will sack me and I don't have anywhere to go because I am living - in.
One time my friend lost her job and I was helping her to find a job through the woman who found a job for me, and she told me, “Why not take her to Kalayaan?” So I went with her because she has zero English. I have a little English by then because of the children. When she had registered with Kalayaan I thought I should do this as well. We started English classes there. Then I heard you can negotiate with your employer and that you are not tied to your employer if you don't like the job. I went back and asked, “Please, I heard that but I want to double-check”. And they said, “Yes, if you don't like the job you can change it and you can say if there’s something you don't like. You say to the employer, this is not fair”. I was excited by that word, “fair”. When the lady came home I just have to drop that word. I was waiting for her. She came in the evening and I said “I want to talk to you. Next time don't ask me to go to your mom. That is another house, and it needs another domestic worker. When I started with you, I started in this house. So you need another worker for that house because this not fair”. When she heard that, “not fair”, I swear she thought “Where did she get that word from?” She got angry and ended up writing a list of all I had to do. She gave it to me and she said, “That money I gave you is for six days, not for five days!” And her mom was pushing her, you know. She came to me one day, and said: “I need you to clean the bathroom for me, I will pay for it”. I did my best. She brought £6, and she said: “Here you are, but I don't like the job”. “You don't like the job? Take your money back, I don't want it”. She told her daughter what I said and after that the daughter became bad to me.
The reason I left her, the last straw was when I was sick. I found a GP and he said you have to leave the house and rest and he wrote me a letter. I finished everything, I cooked for the kids. Then when she came back I explained and I went to my friends for Friday and Saturday. When I came back she wasn’t speaking to me. It’s like I'm not there. I said, “We have to talk” and then we argued. I went out thinking she will calm down. When I came back I found all my clothes in a black bin bag. Then I went to Kalayaan and they took notes and they told me, we will get you legal aid.
So we sent her the statement that we are taking a case. And she was shocked. She couldn’t imagine I could do this because she is a criminal solicitor. She made a statement, all lies. All, all lies. But I have lots of evidence. So for instance her husband was always abusing me, shouting at me. I used to text her: Can you talk to your husband because he's very bad to me. And she would reply: He will apologise to you. She offered£500. Then three days before the hearing she offered£5000. And then she added £1000. My solicitor wanted more but I said “Ok, that's fine. What I wanted is that she learns not to do that to anyone else”.
Then I get a job with a big family, five to look after, five bedrooms, and the nannies. My room is like a box. No window. Just like a small, small one with no door, no window. In it is a washing machine, dryer and the fax and printer. Even when I’m asleep I can still feel the printer and the paper coming through. I had to work all the time, just keep going and come back, going, going, and they’re asking for stuff, give me this, put this, give me this, do this. All day, just orders. The money was not bad, but in the end I said, “It's just complaints from morning to night. You never say that something is good. I cannot work with you like this.” Because they, they're thinking domestic workers are crazy stupid. So I left.
Now I have this housekeeping job and I’m a British citizen. I don’t need the employer for the visa; I can work wherever I want. I am free. The newcomers don't have rights as workers. And this government gives the employers more power to use against the employees.
Since I joined the J4DW and Unite the Union in 2009 I have learned how to negotiate. If you don't know your rights, you're lost. This is what I learn from Unite. I helped them campaign and go to meetings and rallies. In 2012 when I want to get married, I told my husband, “Look, I grow up from Unite. If you're going to tell me don't go there, it will be the end of our life together.” But he said he's proud. The best thing that happened to me was Unite. I just spent seven years in my school, but I have done articles in English, I spoke at the European Parliament 2010, I did UK Parliament 2013. I am a Union Equality rep since 2016. What I have now makes me forget about the bad things from before.