Caste is not one of the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010; however, the definition of “race” is non-exhaustive and includes “ethnic origin”. In 2013, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act stated that the Equality Act must be amended to expressly protect against caste discrimination. Although public consultation was promised and a draft amending order by summer 2015, nothing has happened. Now the tribunals have moved the issue on by finding that a domestic worker kept in shocking conditions was discriminated against because of caste under the existing definition of race.
“In a clear violation of her dignity”, Permila Tirkey worked 18 hours per day, seven days per week, for the Chandhok family. Her passport was taken from her and although money was paid into an account in her name, she could not access it (and her employers withdrew sums from it for their own use). She slept on a foam mattress on the floor of the children’s room, was not allowed to keep a Bible and was unable to call her family. After a row she left the house and brought claims of unfair dismissal, breach of the national minimum wage and race discrimination, arguing that she was Adivasi, a caste known as a servant caste to Hindus, and that she was treated as she was because the family believed she was of a lower status to them.
Last year, the EAT confirmed that caste fell within “ethnic or national origins” and therefore her claim for race discrimination could proceed. Now the employment tribunal has upheld her claim. It found that she “was acceptable to the respondents as their domestic servant, not because of her skills but because she was, by birth, by virtue of her inherited position in society, and by virtue of her upbringing… a person whose expectations in life were no higher than to be a domestic servant”. Ajay and Pooja Chandhok have been ordered to pay £183,773, to make up the total she should have been paid if she had received the national minimum wage during her employment.