Blog: Supreme Court decision illustrates justice gap for victims of modern slavery

Caroline Maguire

Caroline Maguire , employment legal adviser at Law Centre (NI), writes for our sister publication Irish Legal News on access to justice for victims of labour exploitation in the wake of an important UKSC decision.

In June 2016, the UK Supreme Court handed down its decision in the case of Taiwo v Olaigbe and another - UKSC 31. This judgement confirmed the need for a broader remit for employment tribunals to compensate victims of modern slavery.

The joined appeals concerned the cases of two migrant domestic workers, Ms Taiwo and Ms Onu, who suffered severe mistreatment by their respective employers.

Ms Taiwo and Ms Onu were Nigerian nationals who were lawfully brought to the UK by their employers on migrant domestic workers visas. Both had their passports taken away from them on arrival and made to work long underpaid hours.

Ms Taiwo was underfed and subjected to physical and mental abuse by her employers, while MsOnu was threatened and abused.

Both had successfully brought claims to the Employment Tribunal for breaches of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and the Working Time Regulations 1998. However, both had ultimately failed in claims for race discrimination on the grounds that immigration status was not to be equated with nationality for the purpose of the Race Relations Act 1976 and Equality Act 2010.

The Court of Appeal held that “discrimination on a particular ground will only be treated as discrimination on the grounds of a protected characteristic if that ground and the protected characteristic exactly correspond”.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, counsel had argued that Ms Taiwo and Ms Onu had suffered direct discrimination on grounds of nationality.

The Supreme Court found that both employees “…were treated disgracefully, in a way which employees who did not share their vulnerable immigration status would not have been treated”.

However, the Court dismissed both appeals and held that Ms Taiwo and Ms Onuhad not suffered race discrimination because the reason for their abuse had been their vulnerability as a particular kind of migrant worker and not nationality.

  • Read the full blog on the Irish Legal News website.
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