I have often written about the surprising extent to which protection is available from discrimination on the ground of religion or belief or, for that matter because of having no religion or belief. It is therefore perhaps surprising that one of the central tenets of Christian faith, rest on a Sunday, is not something to which Christians are necessarily entitled. There are special rules for shop workers and betting workers but apart from these sectors, unless the contract of employment states otherwise, it is usually possible for employers to insist on employees working on Sundays, even if they are devout Christians. The point was recently confirmed in the employment tribunal case of Celestina Mba v Merton Council. Miss Mba worked for Merton Council at Brightwell Respite Care House in Morden for three years. She was required to work on Sundays since the Council said it had a duty to ensure children had weekend care. Miss Mba said she was prepared to work night shifts and on Saturdays in order to avoid having to work on Sundays. However, the tribunal found that there was no viable alternative to her working on Sundays.
The tribunal also took into account evidence from witnesses including Michael Nazir-Ali, former bishop of Rochester, and concluded that not working on Sundays was “not a core component of the Christian faith” because it was observed by some and not by others.
Miss Mba resigned and claimed constructive dismissal when told she had to work on Sundays. After losing her employment tribunal case she said:
I am amazed by this decision. I thought this was a Christian country and known for its welcome and hospitality to all people. I worked hard for years at my job, and to lose it because of intolerance towards my faith is shocking to me.
For me, Christianity requires Sundays off. The Bible asks us to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy. It’s about much more than going to Church. I spend the whole day helping others in the community – some of whom have no-one to be there for them.