A woman who was brought over from India to work in Britain for as little as 11p an hour has been awarded £184,000.
It’s thought to be the first successful case in the UK involving “low caste” discrimination.
Permila Tirkey and her family are Adivasi people from Bihar, one of India’s poorest states. They are considered to be from the “servant class” under India’s caste system.
The Employment Tribunal heard evidence that she was recruited by Ajay and Pooja Chandhok and made to work up to 18 hours a day, seven days a week at their home in Milton Keynes.
She was not allowed to contact her family. Her employers controlled her passport and her bank account. She endured these conditions for more than four years before taking legal action.
The tribunal found that she had been harassed on the grounds of race, subjected to unacceptable working conditions and indirect religious discrimination. It awarded her £184,000 in unpaid wages and she may also be entitled to compensation.
In giving its ruling, it said that the Chandhoks went to India to recruit Tirkey because “they wanted someone who would be not merely of service but servile, who would not be aware of United Kingdom employment rights”.
They did not want a UK resident “because no such person would have accepted the intended conditions of work”.
Following the judgment, Tirkey, aged 39, said:
I want the public to know what happened to me as it must not happen to anyone else. The stress and anxiety that this sort of thing creates for a person can destroy them. I have not been able to smile because my life had been destroyed. Now I am able to smile again. Now I am free.”
The Legal Aid Agency refused to fund her case at first because it was not considered important enough and was “only a claim for money”.
Tirkey’s barrister, Chris Milsom, said:
Permila Tirkey is a remarkable woman and deserves enormous credit for her patience and stoicism at a time when she was brandished dishonest by those who held her in servitude for four long years.
Those who have closely followed the legislative history of the Equality Act will recall that 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 damning findings of the employment tribunal render that stance untenable. Where such discrimination exists its victims must be protected.
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