A former domestic servant has won £184,000 in unpaid wages following the UK’s first claim for caste discrimination.
Ms Tirkey worked as a domestic servant for a Mr and Mrs Chandok, first in India and then again in the UK. Ms Tirkey is of Adivasi origin, which some in India consider to be low caste. She claims that Mr and Mrs Chandok discriminated against her because of this.
In her claim Ms Tirkey alleged that she was required to be on call for 24 hours a day, had to sleep on the floor, was prevented from contacting her family and denied control of her own bank account. She also claimed for non-payment of wages, as during her employment she was paid just 11 pence per hour.
Ms Tirkey’s original claim was for compensation due to direct and indirect race discrimination, harassment, and discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. In May 2013 she amended her claim to say that the treatment she received from her employer was due to her ethnic or national origins, including her status, caste and descent.
After Ms Tirkey amended her claim, Mr and Mrs Chandok applied to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) to have the case struck out on the grounds that caste is not covered by the Equality Act 2010. However the EAT ruled that the Equality Act’s reference to ethnic origins covered questions of descent, including caste, and that Ms Tirkey’s claim was valid.
The case went back to the Employment Tribunal, which agreed with all of Ms Tirkey’s claims. This week she was awarded £183,774 in unpaid wages to bring her earnings up to the minimum wage, whilst a further hearing has been scheduled for the start of November to determine the amount of compensation she is owed for her other claims.
Gill Howells, Senior Consultant at HR Solutions, said: “This shows that claiming cultural differences does not offer employers protection when it comes to the mistreatment of employees.”
“Unfortunately, those that should benefit the most from this ruling are likely to be amongst the poorest in society. Due to the continuation of Employment Tribunal Fees they are likely to be unable to make a claim.”
The Employment Tribunal’s decision comes just days before the Modern Slavery Act 2015 comes into force.