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Caste, modern slavery and 11p an hour

The case of Tirkey v Chandok and another ET/3400174/2013 provides a fascinating and tragic case study concerning a range of topical issues including religious and caste discrimination, austerity, The case of Tirkey v Chandok and another ET/3400174/2013 provides a fascinating and tragic case study concerning a range of topical issues including religious and caste discrimination, austerity, modern slavery and attempts to protect employers from large claims for unpaid holiday entitlement.

The Tribunal found that Mr and Mrs Chandhok went to India to recruit someone to look after their children and carry out domestic chores. They recruited Ms Tirkey, because "they wanted someone who would be not merely of service but servile". They didn’t seek to recruit someone resident in the UK "because no such person would have accepted the intended conditions of work." Ms Tirkey was born in Bihar, the poorest of the Indian states. She is of the Adivasi class, which falls at the bottom of India’s hierarchical caste system. She could not speak English and is a Christian.

The Tribunal found that in working for Mr and Mrs Chandhok Ms Tirkey:

  • worked 7 days per week 18 hours per day for 4.5 years

  • was on call 24 hours a day

  • was paid 11p an hour

  • slept on the floor

  • was prevented from bringing her Bible to the UK and from attending Church

  • was not allowed to contact her family


Mr and Mrs Chandhok also set up a bank account in Ms Tirkey's name which they controlled and used for their own benefit. The conditions and environment in which she was held were said by the Tribunal to be "a clear violation of her dignity".

The government has expressed a commitment to tackle modern slavery. However, the Legal Aid Agency refused to fund Ms Tirkey’s representation for 17 months. They suggested that Ms Tirkey’s case was not of “sufficient importance or seriousness” and that it was “only a claim for money”. They said that she could represent herself. A charity, the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit, stepped in where the state refused to assist.

In the course of the litigation Ms Tirkey was able to establish that even though the powers in the Equality Act 2010 to outlaw caste discrimination have not yet been brought into force by the Government, caste discrimination was already caught by the existing legislation on race discrimination. The EAT found last year in this case that "since "ethnic origins" was a wide and flexible phrase, and covered questions of descent, caste could fall within it."

It has been reported today on the BBC News Website that Ms Tirkey has now been awarded almost £184,000 in unpaid wages. Again, notwithstanding a Government commitment to tackle modern slavery, such claims will be limited for other victims of modern slavery and human trafficking by the Deduction from Wages (Limitation) Regulations 2014. These Regulations cap retrospective unlawful deduction claims at two years, to limit the impact on businesses of the EAT's decision in Bear Scotland Ltd and others v Fulton and others UKEAT/0047/13 regarding holiday pay. An example of quick fixes and unexpected consequences.

For a more detailed analysis of modern slavery we hope you will join us for our seminar on 26th November.

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