Permila Tirkey has been awarded almost £184,000 in unpaid wages from her former employers after a landmark case in which her caste was taken into consideration as part of her race discrimination complaint.
Ms Tirkey was recruited by Mr and Mrs Chandhok from a poor rural village in India in 2008 to be their domestic servant. She was apparently selected by the Chandhoks for her “servile” demeanour and low caste, that of the Adivasi people. Ms Tirkey claims to have worked 18 hour days in appalling conditions, which included: sleeping on the floor, having her passport withheld and not being allowed out of the house. The tribunal found that the conditions in which she was forced to live and work, were “a clear violation of her dignity” and that it “created an atmosphere of degradation, which was offensive”.
After bringing other claims in the tribunal, Ms Tirkey added the complaint of caste discrimination, stating that the Chandhoks recruited and treated her badly because she was of a lower status to them and this view was tainted by caste considerations. Caste is not currently one of the nine “protected characteristics” in the Equality Act 2010 and so caste discrimination is not expressly prohibited. However the definition of race in the Act does include “colour; nationality; ethnic or national origin”. The Chandhoks’ legal team applied to strike out Ms Tirkey’s amendment on the ground that “caste” did not fall within the definition of “race”, however, an employment tribunal rejected their application, finding that the definition of “race” in the Equality Act is wide enough to encompass caste.
According to Mr Milsom, Ms. Tirkey’s barrister, “the government’s original rationale for refusing explicit prohibition of caste-based discrimination was that there was no evidence of it taking place in the UK”. The fact that the government would be required to amend the Equality Act to provide expressly that caste is protected, but has not yet done so, did not prevent the claim from proceeding on the basis of current law.
The employment tribunal in fact upheld several of Ms Tirkey’s claims against the Chandhoks, including that she was harassed on grounds of her race, subjected to unacceptable working conditions and was the victim of indirect religious discrimination. The award of almost £184,000 was made in respect of unpaid wages, however, substantial additional compensation is also likely to be awarded in respect of discrimination. A remedy hearing is scheduled to take place in November 2015.
University of Law