BEIS civil servant ‘kept woman in domestic servitude’
Court rules that domestic worker kept by civil servant in conditions below legal standards for "basic minimum for dignity”
A High Court judgment found that Rashida Ajayi was kept in 'oppressive servitude'. Photo: PA
A court has ruled that a civil servant at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and her husband kept an African woman in “economic servitude” for more than a decade.
Rashida Ajayi said she had been a domestic worker at the home of civil servant Teresa Abu and her husband Joel for 10 years. She claimed she had received about £300 a year and was a victim of “labour exploitation”.
Abu, a civil servant involved in policy support at the BEIS, and her husband disputed Ajayi’s claims. But the High Court judgment by Master Victoria McCloud ruled in Ajayi’s favour after a central London hearing in July.
McCloud’s ruling stated: “The overall picture I have from the evidence is that Ms Ajayi was kept in economic servitude and that she was prevented from having friends, prevented from having a wage sufficient to give her basic freedoms, and was subject to constraints on contact with her brother, all in the context of hard work done by her in the household to which in my judgment the Abus attach little appreciation.”
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She highlighted that it was “disturbing” that Abu, as a civil servant, would have told the Home Office that Ajayi would be paid in line with her employment terms while “knowing full well” this would not happen.
The judgment added: “I am entirely satisfied that the Abus created the terms and conditions so as to 'tick the boxes' as to the terms needed to ensure that the Home Office gave their domestic servant a visa to ensure they were able to continue to benefit from her work in their home.
“It seems to me that it was accepted in evidence that the reality was that Ms Ajayi was not paid anything like the sums represented in the terms and conditions. The explanation given namely that she never worked long enough and that the pay was only to be strictly hours based does not detract from the fact, as is I think absolutely plain, that Ms Ajayi's very limited pay was the product of effectively making her pay for the 'free' accommodation and meals which the terms provided for.”
McCloud ruled that Ajayi’s circumstances in the Abu household, the location of which is not given, “were oppressive servitude, done in clear breach of the National Minimum Wage Act and fell short of the standards which the law of the land requires as a basic minimum for the dignity of the worker and their remuneration.”
The Abus argued that they had “treated her as a member of their family, paid her appropriately or perhaps at times generously for the work she did” and that “there had never been any restriction on her freedom or rights”.
However, McCloud concluded that Ajayi had been prevented from having a wage “sufficient to give her basic freedoms”, but made no ruling on what compensation Ajayi was due.
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