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Court: Sunday rest is not core belief

04 January 2013

PA

Brisk business: shoppers in Regent Street, London, on the last Sunday before Christmas 

Brisk business: shoppers in Regent Street, London, on the last Sunday before Christmas 

EMPLOYEES who do not wish to work on Sunday because of their Christian faith have no protection in law, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Langstaff, president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, upheld an earlier decision by a London Employment Tribunal that Sunday rest was not a "core component" of Christian belief (News, 2 March 2012).

He rejected an appeal from Celestina Mba, who claims that she was constructively dismissed by Merton Council from her po- sition as a care-worker at Bright-well Children's Home, because it required her to work on Sundays.

Ms Mba, who is on the ministry team of a Baptist church, says that managers agreed that she would not work on Sundays when she was appointed in 2007, but changed their position after she started work, even though other colleagues were prepared to work on Sundays, and she had offered to accept lower pay or work night shifts on Saturdays.

The Equalities Act 2010 places a duty on employers to make "reasonable adjustments" to ensure that they do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief. The Employment Tribunal ruled, however, that "the belief that Sunday was a day of rest was not a 'core' belief of the Christian faith."

In his appeal judgment, Mr Justice Langstaff said: "If [the Tribunal] had stopped there, it would have been offensive and an error of law, but we do not believe that was what the tribunal was saying.

"'Core component' might be thought to be an attempt by the Tribunal to evaluate what was important in the Christian faith. It is a very different matter to ask how many adherents believe in a particular tenet of faith." A policy "affecting nearly every Christian would have a greater discriminatory impact than one which only affected a few Christians".

He said evidence showed that "many Christians will work on a Sunday."

Andrea Minichiello Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which has supported Ms Mba's claim, said that the judgment created an "unrealistic test". It meant that "people like Celestina who wish to respect Sunday as a day of rest and worship will be forced out of the workplace."

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