• Heidi Thompson
  • 6 October 2015

UK's first caste discrimination case

A woman recruited from India to work in Britain has been awarded nearly £184,000 compensation in one of the UK’s first claims of caste discrimination.

Ms Tirkey was a domestic worker for Mr and Mrs Chandhok for four years until 2012. Her inherited caste is recognised in Indian culture as the ‘servant caste’. Ms Tirkey was recruited directly from India by the Chandhoks and required to work under what has been described as appalling conditions such as being paid just 11p an hour, working 18 hours a day and having to sleep on the floor.

Ms Tirkey eventually walked away from her employers and bought a claim against the Chandhoks for unfair dismissal, unlawful deduction from wages and race discrimination. She also made a claim for caste discrimination stating that she was subject to less favourable treatment because of her perceived lower status.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Form Act 2013 does currently have an order included that states the Government must include caste as part of the race protected characteristic. As such whilst this is required it does not currently expressly reference caste as part of the Act.

The Chandhoks applied to strike out the claim of caste discrimination on the basis that ‘caste’ does not presently fall within the definition of ‘race’ in Section 9 of the Act.

Originally this case was dismissed by the Tribunal but then went to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in January 2015.

The EAT upheld the case, ruling that ethic origin included caste, and sent the case back to the employment tribunal. As a result the case was reheard and was found in favour of Tirkey and she was awarded almost £184,000 in compensation – this included the significant underpayment she was owed having been paid only 11pence per hour rather than the national minimum wage.

Whilst the implications of this case are more likely to affect lower paid and lower skilled workers, all employers should be aware of the outcome and consider the impact within their own workforce.

No timeframe has been given as to when caste will be added to the Equality Act. It has often been considered that caste is covered under ethnic origin which is already covered under the Act, however it is not clear. This case may mean the change is not needed, however further guidance is likely in terms of what determines a particular caste.