On Monday, the Evening Standard reported that wealthy foreigners who bring domestic staff from abroad to work in London could face “spot checks” at their homes under new plans to stamp out modern slavery. This follows the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 earlier this year and a recent Employment Tribunal case where this issue was the focus.
Earlier this autumn, the employment tribunal released its judgment in the case of Tirkey v Chandhok. Mr and Mrs Chandhok had brought Ms Tirkey over from India, confiscated her passport and made her work as their servant for four and a half years. She was made to work for at least 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and had to sleep on a mattress in a landing area. She was paid the equivalent of only £3,230 for all her work (i.e. 11 pence per hour), which Mr and Mrs Chandhok sent to her family in India. The Employment Tribunal upheld all Ms Tirkey’s claims, which were for harassment and discrimination because of religion and/or race, unlawful deduction from wages, unfair dismissal, and breach of the Working Time Regulations. Amongst other things, Ms Tirkey is claiming a shortfall of £183,773.53 in the pay she received for all those hours worked. A remedy hearing is pending but it looks likely that she will be awarded substantial compensation.
Specifically aimed at addressing the issue of slavery and trafficking in the 21st century, Parliament passed The Modern Slavery Act 2015 in March. This new legislation enhances support and protection for victims, gives law enforcement the tools they need to target today’s slave drivers and ensures perpetrators can be punished. As well as covering domestic workers, it also aims to prevent UK firms exploiting the labour of workers overseas, by requiring large businesses (those who supply goods or services and have a minimum total annual turnover of £36 million) to produce a public statement every year setting out what they have done to make sure their business and supply chains are free from slavery.
We now understand that the Home Office is considering new measures for ensuring domestic workers (for example, cooks, nannies and cleaners) are not being mistreated. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, has told the Evening Standard that a new system of home visits and other checks is being examined by a barrister working for the Home Office. It is not yet clear how this system would be effected. For instance, we do not know who would face these spot checks and whether an enforcement officer would be able to deal with other irregularities, such as domestic staff working in the UK illegally or employers avoiding paying appropriate taxes. There is also the problem that a domestic worker’s visa is linked to the family who have sponsored the worker, meaning that the worker’s visa will become invalid and they will need to leave the country should their work with the particular family cease. In any case, it can only be welcome news if it helps to uncover and bring to safety vulnerable workers like Ms Tirkey.