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MP Jonathan Djanogly and the housekeeper obliged to rotate avocados

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A housekeeper at the £7m London home of MP Jonathan Djanogly was given duties by his wife that included “detailed instructions about the rotation of avocados between the fruit bowl and the fridge”.

The woman was also instructed “about counting cutlery, about how to carry items from the coffee table to the sink, and about how to clean stools,” an employment tribunal judge said.

“The laundry instructions alone run to a page and a half and include instructions on setting alarms and sending texts about collection of dirty clothes.

Jonathan Djanogly MP said today: “Rebecca (his wife) accepts the resulting tribunal judgements and will be reviewing contractual terms with future employees. “Neither tribunal judgement referred to mistreatment of employees, let alone modern-day slavery, and any suggestion that this occurred at any point is firmly denied”.

Jonathan Djanogly MP said today: “Rebecca (his wife) accepts the resulting tribunal judgements and will be reviewing contractual terms with future employees.
“Neither tribunal judgement referred to mistreatment of employees, let alone modern-day slavery, and any suggestion that this occurred at any point is firmly denied”.
Picture by Terry Harris.

“The impression I formed was that following the numerous tasks within the charts in the exact order they were set out, and ticking them off once done, was a feat of compliance that was practically a task in itself.”

“One can see how the claimant might have been daunted (or ‘overwhelmed’ to use her words) about the magnitude of tasks set out in these sheets.

“It is easy to accept that the tasks would have taken a long time.”

The evidence has emerged from one of two employment tribunals that featured two housekeepers – both of whom have won legal fights for compensation.

Mr Djanogly, in a statement today, said: “I am aware of a story circulating in some parts of the press about my wife, Miss Rebecca Silk, and I wish to make clear that she is always concerned about the welfare of her employees.

“It is correct that Rebecca had contractual employment disputes with two individuals.

“Rebecca accepts the resulting tribunal judgements and will be reviewing contractual terms with future employees.

“Neither tribunal judgement referred to mistreatment of employees, let alone modern-day slavery, and any suggestion that this occurred at any point is firmly denied.

“Appropriate legal action is being actively considered in response.”

The second woman told the Sunday Mirror she “worked like a dog” for the MP and his family and she, too, was instructed in how to arrange avocados.

“I did feel angry, devastated actually. I applied for a role that turned out to be something else,” she told the newspaper.

Judgement in the case of the other woman, a Ms J B, is documented in an employment tribunal published online following a remote tribunal hearing heard on May 23, 2022.

Throughout the case, heard by employment judge Stephen Heath, Mr Djanogly’s wife was referred to by her maiden name of Rebecca Silk.

The tribunal determined that Ms Silk had made unauthorized deductions from the woman’s wages of £2,203.72 gross “and must pay her this sum”.

Jonathan Djanogly MP said today: “Rebecca (his wife) accepts the resulting tribunal judgements and will be reviewing contractual terms with future employees. “Neither tribunal judgement referred to mistreatment of employees, let alone modern-day slavery, and any suggestion that this occurred at any point is firmly denied”.

December 7 2022. Hedgerow Heroes at the Agriculture and Environment Sector Winter Reception – CPRE The Countryside Charity event. Cholmondeley Room & Terrace, House of Lords, Palace of Westminster. London, UK ©Julia Claxton

It was also ruled that Ms Silk should pay £481.14 gross in respect of accrued annual leave.

“The claimant has breached the claimant’s contract of employment by not paying her for hours worked in excess of contractual hours, and must pay her £463.32 gross,” the judgement concluded.

Background.

Ms B was “engaged” to work at the Djanogly home as a housekeeper in 2021.

For a month this was “expressed to be a ‘tutorial period’ during which the claimant was being trained for employment,” says the tribunal findings.

From May 27 to July 31, she was employed.

Ms Silk denied unlawful deductions and any shortfall in holiday pay.

The judge summarised “the following facts”.

He said the claimant had applied for the post from an advert on Gumtree.

It was advertised as offering a four-day week, all weekends free, live in accommodation, and a salary of £20,000 a year.

He said the advert also told applicants: “You are completely free Friday to Sunday with no work commitments, but accommodation and food is provided 7 days a week.”

There was also the promise of a bonus after a year “because I really only want somebody who is prepared to stay for a minimum of one year, otherwise it can be so disruptive”.

During the interview the respondent went through a number of the requirements of the role.

Ms Silk provided two charts “outlining in significant detail the tasks the role required to be undertaken”.

And she explained that the hours were long and that she was “not looking for someone who would be out late partying and thereby unable to carry out their demanding role”.

A letter of employment set out “that there would be detailed charts for most of the procedures and pieces of equipment to be used in carrying out the role.

Jonathan Djanogly MP said today: “Rebecca (his wife) accepts the resulting tribunal judgements and will be reviewing contractual terms with future employees.
“Neither tribunal judgement referred to mistreatment of employees, let alone modern-day slavery, and any suggestion that this occurred at any point is firmly denied”.
Pictured with MP Steve Barclay

“It made clear that the aim of the tutorial period was to get the claimant to the point when she could follow each chart accurately without supervision.

“The tutorial would end when the claimant demonstrated her ability to follow every chart accurately in the house ticking off each task on each chart after she had completed it”.

The judge said that Ms B was given detailed instructions on what was expected.

A letter from Ms Silk explained that “for the avoidance of doubt I wish to make it clear here that I have explained to you verbally that there is a substantial cost to me associated with providing the tuition days.

“If you are not successful or you decide not to proceed with the job of housekeeper that will be offered to you there will be no charge for the tuition that you have received.

“Clearly no charge will be made by you to me for the tuition days if you decide not to proceed with the job of housekeeper or if you are not successful in securing a position with us.

“Once you have successfully secured a position with us as our housekeeper a contract of employment will be signed immediately.”

But it also added that “if you are successful in securing a position with us as our housekeeper, I will also pay you for the tuition days on the proviso that you stay working as described during your tutorial period for a minimum of one year.

“If your employment with us ends before you have worked here for one year, I will deduct the payments made for your tutorial days from any monies owing to you”.

Ms B was told that “the tutorial period will end when you demonstrate your ability to follow EVERY task accurately in the house alone and to complete each chart by ticking to show completion only AFTER you have completed each task – not before”.

Daily work

The judge said Ms B was given printed sheets and would have to tick off each daily task in turn after she had performed it.

Weekends were free, the judge said, as the family spent most of these in the MP’s Cambridgeshire constituency.

“During the tutorial period the claimant was not permitted to stay at the respondent’s London home for insurance purposes,” said the judge.

Ms B went back to her friend’s home in Essex, and Ms Silk paid her train fare.

On other weekends during the tutorial period Ms B was invited to go to Cambridgeshire, but she preferred to spend time in Essex with her friend, apart from one weekend during which she stayed with the respondent and her family in Cambridgeshire.

The judge also said that during cross examination it had emerged that Ms Silk had been monitoring the housekeeper’s work – without her knowledge – on CCTV.

The judge also said there was a factual dispute over claims that Ms B had been told that from evening to Friday morning she would be expected to be no more than 15 minutes’ walk away from the house.

“It has not been easy to resolve this factual dispute,” said the judge.

“However, on the basis of the entirety of the evidence I consider the claimant’s account is more likely.

“The whole picture which emerged from the evidence is of the respondent retaining a very substantial degree of control over the claimant.”

He added: “A requirement that the claimant stay within walking distance of the house is in keeping with this overall picture of tight control.”

Jonathan Djanogly MP said today: “Rebecca (his wife) accepts the resulting tribunal judgements and will be reviewing contractual terms with future employees. “Neither tribunal judgement referred to mistreatment of employees, let alone modern-day slavery, and any suggestion that this occurred at any point is firmly denied”.

Jonathan Djanogly MP,
One Leisure, St Ives
Friday 06 May 2022.
Picture by Terry Harris.

The judge said the claimant’s evidence was that she quickly began to realise that dealing with all of the tasks on the daily sheets within 12 hours was impossible.

“I have little difficulty in accepting her evidence on looking at the sheets,” he said.

“It is not simply the sheer number of tasks that is striking, but the detailed prescriptive manner in which many of the tasks were to be carried out.

“It is easy to accept that the tasks would have taken a long time.

“As the claimant cleaned or carried out other tasks in each room of the house (though there were several rooms she never cleaned, including the respondent’s sons’ rooms and the weekend housekeeper’s room) she would send the respondent a WhatsApp message is to indicate when she had started and when she had stopped cleaning the room.”

Contract of employment.

The tribunal judge noted that a letter set out that the claimant must arrive home from holiday no later than 10pm the day before she starts work.

Also, she would be expected to be at home at 11pm on any night before she had work the following day.

And Ms Silk reserved ‘the right to hold any salary owing until your final salary payment during your notice period.

‘If your employment ends with us before you have worked here for one year, I will deduct payments made for your tutorial days from your final salary as agreed in our original letter when you agree to accept tuition for this role.

The tribunal judge, examining evidence of pay and conditions, noted that “it would have been obvious to the respondent that the claimant was working long hours, probably in excess of her contracted hours.

“If it was not obvious, it should have been had there been an effective way of monitoring the hours worked to ensure WTR (Working Time Regulations) time limits were not being exceeded”.

The judge said: “At some point in July the claimant contacted the modern slavery support unit at the Salvation Army where she received support and advice. “On the last four working days of July claimant was off sick.

“On 31 July 2021 she left the respondent’s property without giving any notice.

“She was offered temporary housing by the Salvation Army National Referral Unit.

“She received no further pay from the respondent.

“Having engaged in early conciliation the claimant presented her complaint on 17 November 2021.”

The judge said: “In applying the statutory language, it is necessary to view the facts realistically and to keep in mind the purpose of the legislation, which includes protection of vulnerable workers from being paid too little, required to work excessive hours, or otherwise being treated unfairly.

“The greater the extent of control of the worker the stronger case for classifying the individual as a worker employed under a worker’s contract.”

He concluded: “The very first paragraph of the letter of 22 April 2021 sets out in the clearest of terms an offer, acceptance, and consideration.

“In short it is a contract.

“The letter does not specifically classify what type of relationship the parties were said to be entering into, but the final sentence of the first paragraph envisages that it was not a contract of employment, as the parties would enter into such following successful completion of tuition. “To determine the terms of the agreement between the parties I may look beyond the written agreement and look at the facts realistically with an eye to the purpose of the legislation.

“My findings are that the claimant worked under this contract, in that she performed tasks set out in the worksheets.

“Some of it was under the supervision of the respondent some of it was not. I specifically asked the respondent whether the claimant was, for example, sweeping parts of the garden or cleaning the sitting room, and the answer was that she was.

“The claimant most certainly was undertaking to do or perform personally work or services for the respondent. “She could not send a substitute to perform her work. The respondent was not a client or customer of the claimant’s profession or business.

“The reality of the situation was that she was working under a contract personally to perform work or services, notwithstanding the attempt to dress up the agreement as some kind of tutorial period preparatory to employment.

“I am fortified in these conclusions when I consider the degree of control, which was considerable, that the respondent subjected the claimant to.

“This was a worker’s contract at the very least.

“While, strictly speaking, it is not necessary for me to determine the point, the claimant appeared to be working under a contract of service, that is to say a contract of employment.”

The judge said there were a number of indications of this.

1: The respondent retained a substantial degree of control over the respondent.

2: The worksheets were tightly prescriptive, and it appeared the claimant had very little autonomy indeed over how she carried out the work

3: The claimant was tied to one employer, the respondent, for whom she rendered service personally and she was not free to work for others.

4: The work was provided in return for remuneration, albeit that the respondent sought to make this conditional on her being subsequently tied into a “contract of employment” for 12 months.

He added: “As either an employee or a worker, the claimant had the right not to suffer unauthorised deductions from wages and had the rights conferred in the WTR.”

The judge, under what he termed ‘general observations’ made the following statement.

“Standing back and looking at the relationship between the parties as a whole, I find that this was an employment relationship from the very outset but one in which the respondent sought to deny the claimant a wage for the work she did, and other worker’s rights,” he said.

“When the claimant was granted the status of employee by the respondent (a status she had in fact enjoyed all along), she had hanging over her the prospect for a whole year of five week’s wages, earned for work she had performed, being taken away from her unless she worked for the respondent for a whole year.

“This is unfair and unlawful.”

He said: “The respondent began her questioning of the claimant by suggesting that the claimant had presented herself as ‘abused’, whereas in actual fact she was intelligent, eloquent, and capable.

“While the claimant appeared to me all of those things, she was also homeless, financially insecure, divorced and with no family support network.

“A combination of these characteristics can often lead to vulnerability.

“In summing up, the respondent suggested that the claimant saw the respondent as a ‘soft target’ and that she had been planning some sort of case against her from the beginning of her engagement.

“She based this allegation on the fact that the claimant had retained train tickets from April 2021. Strictly speaking this is not a matter that I have to resolve in order to determine the issues.

“However, in assessing the overall probabilities in finding facts in relation to the issues in dispute, assessing motivations can sometimes be helpful.

“I do not find, on the basis of retaining a couple of train tickets, that the claimant was planning some sort of claim all along.

“The contemporaneous email evidence strongly suggests that during the course of her employment, she felt that she was being underpaid and she took considerable steps to take this up with the respondent and seek some form of resolution.

“In short, I do not find the claimant to be someone trying to affect the veneer of vulnerability and I do not find that she was plotting some sort of cynical claim from the outset.

“She also made appropriate concessions about the days she had worked, and I found her an impressive witness. “

He said: “Despite there being precision and clarity in the documentation as to how and when to replenish and clean the coffee machine or stack the dishwasher, and what order these tasks should be performed, determining the claimant’s pay entitlement is less straightforward, and the documentation tending towards the opaque.

“Where there is any ambiguity, I resolve it against the respondent employer.

“I would also expect any employer, especially one with such an obvious attention to detail and an apparent tendency towards scrupulous documentation, to produce records to counter the claimant’s evidence as to the days she has worked.

“As the respondent did not do this, I accepted the evidence from the claimant as to the days on which she worked.”

He said: “I accept the claimant’s evidence that she was often working more than 12 hours a day, and would be prepared to accept that this was sometimes an hour and a half a day.”

And of the claim as a whole he added that the evidence “leads me to believe that treating the claimant fairly as regard payment was not a priority of the respondent”.

Jonathan Djanogly MP said today: “Rebecca (his wife) accepts the resulting tribunal judgements and will be reviewing contractual terms with future employees.

“Neither tribunal judgement referred to mistreatment of employees, let alone modern-day slavery, and any suggestion that this occurred at any point is firmly denied”.

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