Victim of domestic servitude wins first caste discrimination claim

Tirkey v Chandok and another ET/3400174/2013

In a ground-breaking judgment handed down on 17 September 2015 the Employment Tribunal upheld numerous claims, including those for unpaid wages and religious and race discrimination, brought by an Indian woman of low caste kept in domestic servitude by her employers for four and a half years. 

The Tribunal found that Ms Tirkey was kept in domestic servitude and that the conditions and environment into which she was held was ‘a clear violation of her dignity’.

Ms Tirkey was born in Bihar, the poorest of the Indian states. Her family are Adivasi people who are dark skinned, poor and low caste. She is a Christian. The Tribunal found that Mr and Mrs Chandhok went to India to recruit Ms Tirkey, because ‘they wanted someone who would be not merely of service but servile’ and that they did not seek to recruit someone resident in the UK ‘because no such person would have accepted the intended conditions of work.’ 

The Tribunal found Mr and Mrs Chandhok subjected Ms Tirkey to unacceptable working conditions:

-    She worked seven days per week 18 hours per day for four and a half years
-    She was on call 24 hours a day
-    She was paid 11p an hour (the National Minimum Wage is currently £6.50 per hour)
-    She slept on the floor
-    She was prevented from bringing her Bible to the UK and from attending Church
-    She was not allowed to contact her family
-    They set up a bank account in her name which they controlled and used for their own benefit. 

Upon receiving judgment Ms Tirkey 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 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. This was a bar to Ms Tirkey pursuing her complaints as she would have faced the ordeal of cross examining the employers who had kept her in domestic servitude for years. It was only with relentless legal representation that funding was eventually secured. 

It is our experience that victims seeking to hold their traffickers to account find their applications for legal aid are routinely refused. This judgment is a resounding victory for the Claimant, a victory which would not have been achieved without legal aid. We feel strongly that the Legal Aid Agency should be assisting victims to access justice not putting up barriers to it. Other victims who do not have the necessary legal support, conviction and tenacity would have given up in the face of such comments and delays.”

ATLEU were the solicitors for the Claimant. Chris Milsom of Cloisters was counsel for the Claimant.

Read the full press release here

Download the judgment here