Clarifying the protections of the Equality Act for migrant workers

Case name: Taiwo & Anor v Olaigbe & Ors

A woman who came to the UK as a migrant domestic worker was abused and exploited by her employer. She successfully brought several claims against the employer, but her claim for race discrimination did not succeed. We supported her to challenge this in the Supreme Court.

Legal issue

Lack of protection for exploited migrant domestic workers under the Equality Act.

Background

A woman came to the UK to work as a nanny and housekeeper. She claimed to have been verbally and physically abused by her employers. They took her passport away, put restrictions on her movements, failed to pay her the minimum wage and forced her to work an excessive number of hours. She challenged her employers through the courts. Although some of her claims were successful, her claim for race discrimination did not succeed. She appealed this, but the Court of Appeal agreed that she hadn’t be a victim of race discrimination. She made a further challenge to the Supreme Court.

Why we were involved

One of our primary goals is to protect the rights of people in the most vulnerable situations. Migrant domestic workers can be particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. They are usually dependent on their employers for housing as well as immigration status. They may speak little or no English and because the nature of their work is in private homes, the way they are treated is largely hidden from view. We hoped that this case would pave the way for exploited migrant workers to bring claims for race discrimination and be compensated accordingly.

What we did

We paid the woman’s legal costs so she could challenge the earlier finding that she had not been a victim of race discrimination.

What happened

The Supreme Court confirmed earlier rulings that the woman had not been a victim of race discrimination. The court agreed that her immigration status as an overseas domestic worker made her more vulnerable to exploitation than a British national would be. However, claims under the Equality Act must demonstrate discrimination on the grounds of a protected characteristic, and immigration status is not one of these. The Judge ruled that immigration status is not closely enough linked to nationality (which is a protected characteristic) to permit a claim under the Equality Act. The Judge made clear that exploitation of migrant workers is wrong and they should be entitled to compensation – but that the law as it stands does not provide a means of doing so.

Who will benefit and how

Exploitation and abuse of migrant workers is a major concern for us. We wanted to send a clear message to employers that it is illegal and we will take action. Although the outcome of the case was disappointing, the Judge’s suggestion that the law may need amending is a helpful one and we hope will lead to a strengthening of protection for migrant workers in future.

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