London, 7 October 2015
On 17 September 2015, in an appalling case of caste discrimination, a UK Employment Tribunal held in Tirkey v Chandok that numerous employment rights of Ms Tirkey, a woman recruited from India to work in the Chandoks’ home, had been violated. The Tribunal found there had been “unacceptable working conditions” of employment and that the Chandoks had directly discriminated against Ms Tirkey because of her ethnic origin and indirectly discriminated against her because of her religion.
Ms Tirkey was awarded nearly £184,000 in unpaid wages, with damages on other grounds to be assessed at a later hearing. In finding for the Claimant, the Employment Tribunal confirmed the earlier ruling of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in the case that while “caste” does not exist as an autonomous concept under Section 9 of the Equality Act 2010, the category “ethnic origin” is broad enough to cover many of the fact patterns which constitute “caste” discrimination.
Ms Tirkey described herself as being “low caste” and from the “servant class” in India, and was recruited by the Chandoks in 2008 to work as a live-in domestic worker in the UK. During her employment, Ms Tirkey faced lamentable conditions. She worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and was in effect “on call” 24 hours a day. Further, she had very limited freedom during her employment – she would rarely be allowed out of the house unsupervised or be left in the house alone and her passport and other documents were kept from her. Ms Tirkey did not have a bed or her own private bedroom, but slept on a foam mattress in otherwise occupied bedrooms for the duration of her employment. She was paid as little as 11p per hour and her wages were paid into a bank account to which she did not have access and from which the Chandoks frequently made withdrawals for their own purposes. Finally, Ms Tirkey was prevented from bringing her Bible to the UK and her patterns of work meant that she was not able to attend Church.
The Employment Tribunal found a litany of breaches of Ms Tirkey legal rights. They included several violations of her employment rights, including a failure to provide terms and conditions of employment and pay slips. She was not paid the National Minimum Wage, and she did not receive rest time or annual leave. On the claims of discrimination, the Tribunal found that Ms Tirkey had suffered discrimination on the grounds of both race and religion. The Chandoks unlawfully indirectly discriminated against her on the grounds of religion by refusing to allow her to bring her Bible and preventing her from attending Church. Further, Ms Tirkey was the victim of harassment on the grounds of race. Key to this finding was her caste status in India, an inherited position which meant that she was expected to be a servant for wealthier Indian families. The Tribunal noted that the Chandoks wanted someone who would “not merely be of service but be servile” and who would be ignorant of her rights under UK law. The Tribunal followed the earlier approach of the Employment Appeals tribunal in Chandhok and another v Tirkey, which held that the categories of “caste” and “ethnic origin” overlapped, meaning that some instances of “caste” discrimination would be covered by the Equality Act 2010.
The Equal Rights Trust welcomes the judgment and urges the government to bring into effect legislation that would expressly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of caste. This case clearly shows that caste discrimination exists and has serious consequences for those who experience it. While this case was a victory for Ms Tirkey, an ad hoc protection of caste on the basis of “ethnic origin” may not protect all victims of caste discrimination.