VIENNA -- Illegal immigrants working as domestics in the European Union are often subject to beatings, sexual abuse and overwork while being paid a fraction of what they would be entitled to if employed legally, an EU agency reported Tuesday.
The Vienna-based EU Fundamental Rights agency interviewed 72 people working illegally in 10 EU nations. It described the accounts it heard as "chilling."
"Migrants in an irregular situation employed in domestic work are at heightened risk of exploitation and abuse, including sexual abuse," the report says.
It notes that because such people – usually women – are afraid to turn to authorities, they are deprived of their most fundamental rights.
Among its recommendations, the 64-page document calls for broadened labor inspections of households in a search for illegal domestic workers; loosening immigration rules where there is a shortage of domestics so positions can be filled legally, and providing increased support for trade unions and advocacy groups providing legal assistance for exploited illegals.
Quoting unidentified victims of exploitation, the report outlined a broad category of direct and indirect abuse, ranging from sex forced upon illegals by their employers to serious illness caused by physical and mental stress.
"Without going to bed with her, he would not give her any work," one of those interviewed said of a friend working for a man who employed illegal workers for his dry-cleaning business. Another, working as a cleaner, told of being stalked by her employer, who would end up "at nights in front of my door."
An illegal from Latin America working in an Italian household told of a beating by her female employer who "scratched my back and ripped my T-shirt. An East European working in Poland also said she was physically abused by the woman she worked for, who "took my bag, tipped it out on the stairs and ... was hitting me with (various) things."
Other respondents spoke of being overworked and underpaid. One Latin American woman employed in a Belgian household who said she worked up to 20 hours a day for 400 to 500 euros (about $600 to $700) a month, told the agency that when she complained she was told to consider herself lucky because "you live in my house, you eat in my house and I pay you on top of that."
Such exploitation often leads to injury or illness, said the agency's report.
"Migrants interviewed in Belgium, France and Sweden reported ... permanent knee problems after falling down stairs at work, permanent back pain after a work accident and continuous pain in a foot as a result of an accident while forced to do sports with the employer," it said. "Sometimes using strong medicine to endure the pain, workers continue in their jobs despite sickness or injuries."
One illegal was quoted as saying that after she sought medical treatment for persistent pains and ailments, the doctor told her "You are sick. You will die immediately if you work so heavily."
The study interviewed citizens of 28 countries working illegally in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden.