The Court of Appeal has urged employment tribunals to ensure that an exception to National Minimum Wage (NMW) legislation, designed to benefit both employers and workers, is not exploited as a device to obtain cheap domestic labour.
The court was ruling on two cases in which domestic workers employed in private households failed to convince employment tribunals that they were entitled to be paid the NMW established by the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999.
Both appeals were dismissed after the court accepted employers’ arguments that the domestic staff were treated as members of the family for which they worked in terms of accommodation, meals and the sharing of tasks. The circumstances of their employment therefore fell within the exception contained in regulation 2(2).
Observing that certain ‘onerous duties’ imposed on domestic workers may be inconsistent with treatment as a family member, Lord Justice Pill, sitting with Lady Justice Black and Mr Justice Bean, warned: ‘Tribunals will need to be astute when assessing whether an exception designed for the mutual benefit of employer and worker is, or is not, being used as a device for obtaining cheap domestic labour’.
However, the judge concluded: ‘That has not happened in either of these cases and I would dismiss the appeals.’