Abuse of migrant workers not unlawful discrimination

28 June 2016

Does abuse of migrant domestic workers, on grounds of their status as vulnerable migrants, amount to unlawful discrimination?

No, held the Supreme Court in this recent judgment.

Two Nigerian nationals, both in the UK under domestic migrant visas, were mistreated and abused by their employers (see paras 3, 4 and 8 of the judgment for the description of how they were treated). After escaping, they brought successful claims under the minimum wage (and other similar) legislation. They also sought compensation under the Equality Act, asserting they had been directly or indirectly discriminated against on grounds of their nationality.

The Supreme Court disagreed. It was not direct discrimination because the mistreatment was due to their vulnerable migrant status, not because of their nationality. Nor was it indirect discrimination, because there was no ‘provision, criterion or practice’ applied by the employers to their employees.

Baroness Hale suggested, in a concluding paragraph, that Parliament might consider whether employment tribunals ought to be given jurisdiction to award compensation under section 8 of the Modern Slavery Act to grant recompense for ill-treatment meted out to vulnerable migrant workers.

With thanks to Daniel Barnett’s employment law bulletin which provided the details of this case.