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What are the options for migrant workers exploited by their employers?

The Supreme Court has handed down judgement in two cases regarding the mistreatment of migrant domestic workers. The issue for the Court was whether the abuse of the workers amounted to discrimination on their status as migrants.

X, a Nigerian of Yoruba ethnicity, entered the UK lawfully in February 2010 on a domestic worker’s visa. Her employer O fabricated her employment history and contract of employment to get X into the UK. X was on duty during all her waking hours, she was not paid the minimum wage, she was not given enough to eat and was subject to both physical and verbal abuse described as ‘systematic and callous exploitation’.

She was awarded £30,485.85 under the national minim wage regulations and £1,520 for failure to provide written particulars of employment. Her claims for discrimination were dismissed.

The facts of Y’s case were similar. Her passport was taken off her, she was not paid the minimum wage, was not given adequate rest breaks and worked an average of 84 hours a week.

She fled her employer’s home and walked eight miles to the home of a Jehovah’s witness whom she had met on the doorstep of her employer. From there, she was put in touch with a charity that assists trafficked workers.

She brought the same claims as X and later added claims for victimisation and harassment under the Equality Act 2010.

The Supreme Court concluded that X and Y had not been directly discriminated against because their treatment was due to their vulnerable migrant status, not because of their nationality or race. It was not indirect discrimination, because there was no ‘provision, criterion or practice’ applied by the employers to their employees.

The Court observed that the claims had to fail, not because the individuals concerned did not deserve redress, but because the law as it currently stands cannot provide the redress they deserve. The Court urged Parliament to consider whether the Modern Slavery Act 2015, is too restrictive and whether the employment tribunal should have authority to grant some compensation for the appalling treatment meted out to employees such as these.


Sarah Rushton (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


This is intended for general information only and should not be considered as giving advice in relation to any individual case nor be taken as applying to any particular case. No liability is accepted for any such use of the information contained.