We won’t stop racist exploitation of undocumented, says court

We won’t stop racist exploitation of undocumented, says court


Written by: Frances Webber

The rejection of race discrimination claims brought by a young Nigerian woman who was brought in illegally by her employers, brutalised and denied wages, gives a green light to racism.

MH was probably only 14 when her employer brought her from Nigeria to work in the UK as an au pair, promising to send her to school and to pay her £50 a month on top of her board and lodging. She was told to say that she was 20 and that she was coming to visit her grandmother. Once here, she was beaten, never paid any wages and not given the opportunity to go to school. Eventually she was thrown out of the house. The employment tribunal to which, helped by North Kensington Law Centre, she applied, found as a fact that her vulnerability, as a foreigner working illegally on a visitor’s visa, allowed her employer to treat her worse than a British citizen would be treated, and upheld her claim of race discrimination, although it rejected her claims of unfair dismissal and breaches of contract because of her illegal status.

But the Court of Appeal[1] allowed the employer’s appeal, on the basis that MH was a willing party to the illegal work. The judges described the 14 year old’s involvement as that of an equal party, effectively saying she knew what she was doing and could not complain if it all went wrong.

The judges’ decision was based on the old common-law idea that no-one should be allowed to take advantage of their own illegal acts. But their application of the doctrine to cases like MH’s turns it on its head, allowing those who bring unauthorised workers in to the country and exploit their illegal status to profit from their own wrongdoing, in the process legitimising the super-exploitation of the most vulnerable.

Decisions like these reinforce racism both directly and indirectly: directly, through their message that undocumented workers can’t have and don’t deserve basic rights and protections, and indirectly, through actively colluding in the undercutting of wages and conditions which causes resentment among British workers.

[1] MH v Allen [2012] EWCA Civ 1609, 15 May 2012.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

7 thoughts on “We won’t stop racist exploitation of undocumented, says court

  1. We go all around the world espousing our so-called “values”, in some cases even imposing them. For Britain to not then even apply these “values” at home, in a case of law no less, for the most vulnerable and marginalised, is hypocrisy of the highest order. This ruling not only upholds the evil of racism, it actually gives the green light for more abuse. It seems that Non-EU citizens are to be treated as less human.

  2. I cannot believe that slavery is still been practised in this supposedly civil society,and the judges are allowing it to happen. May they all suffer for their sins and inherit, some really nasty decease, and suffer like this girl did at the hands of the slaver traders. JUDGE MAY YOU ROT IN HELL, JUST LIKE ALLTHE RACISTS IN THIUS COUNTRY, BECAUSE I LOATHE YOU LIKE I LOATHE THE DEVIL.

  3. I can imagine a judge sitting in his cozy chair not even comprehending that actually modern day slavery does and is still rampant. I am speaking from a lesson as a former victim of trafficking c’on guys get off your high chairs and listen to our voices what do we do to be heard? Commit suicide??

  4. Racism within the workplace by those legal in the United Kingdom is still being allowed in great numbers as most Black and Minority Ethnic citizens applications to Employment Tribunals since October 2004 have either failed or, is still failing. If this absolute nonsense is still going on within the place of work – which is promoting racism in a funny way – in the new millenium, what chance has an illegal worker got?

  5. There were contrary evidence in the proceedings to the assertion that MH was 14. Indeed her own sworn affidavit indicated that she was an adult at all material times.

  6. I cannot express how bad this topic is getting. The justice system is becoming more and more racist and I just don’t see how they are able to get away with it.

    I am a victim of the justice system, I was attacked by an old white friend of mine after being constantly taunted. I defended myself as any other human being would do and walked away.

    She then went to the police about it, after boldy posting on social media that it was a scam for compensation. Not to mention, she has done this before for the same reason. She openly advertised the pain I was going through alongside friends and it has ruined me as a person.

    The judge tore me to pieces and I have never even been in trouble with the law before, I work full time, did really well at school, have gained more qualifications since, have worked with youths and had travel opportunities lined up for the whole year. I cannot say the same for the other girl.

    The weirdest thing about all of this is the judge who sentenced me wasn’t even the first judge I had. The first judge was a reasonable man, he thought the whole thing was a bit far fetched. But the way the system works is, you don’t have the same judge everytime unless they reserve your case, in other words, unless they want to go for blood. Then, when I got called back the first judge wasn’t in court that day. The judge who sentenced me was, and the hearing lasted 5minutes, it took him 5minutes to reserve my case. That’s when he made up his mind.

    The judge gave me every punishment possible except jail, and he couldn’t help but stress how close that was. His exact words were ‘you are lucky you work’. When talking to her on the stand, the judge never asked her about what happened that day, just how she was doing and if she had a boyfriend. He just had a catch up with her and I couldn’t help but stare wide mouthed at what was happening before me.

    I had holidays booked, opportunities were there. I had so many plans to better myself this year, to help my mum move out of this rough neighbourhood we live in, so many things.

    The judge didn’t see a young person with dreams or he never took a chance to find out who I actually was as a person.

    I had glowing character references, from accountable and professional people. He just saw a young black girl from a not so perfect family and one of the roughest neighborhoods in the city and pre-judged me.

    I can say, it has got easier. But this has ruined my life. And has probably done the same to thousands of other none white people in Britain. The justice system is racist, how long are they allowed to get away with it? When can we treat everybody equally?

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