Sacked nursery worker challenges EU and English law

06 March 2015

PA

Challenge: Ms Tshikuna-Mbuyi outside the employment tribunal in Watford, on Monday

Challenge: Ms Tshikuna-Mbuyi outside the employment tribunal in Watford, on Monday

A BELGIAN nursery worker is arguing that EU law requires the UK to protect the "social norms of other EU states and the religious views of workers who come to the UK", and that any English law that conflicts with the expression of religious views should be set aside.

The argument is being made by Sarah Tshikuna-Mbuyi, who took advantage of EU laws on the freedom of movement for workers to come to the UK in search of employment. She was taken on by Newpark Childcare, in Shepherd's Bush, as a nursery worker, but was sacked for gross misconduct when a lesbian colleague complained about her views on homosexuality.

In a witness statement, Ms Tshikuna-Mbuyi told an Employment Tribunal hearing in Watford this week that she had never raised her colleague's sexuality, and had been "set up".

"I have resolved never to discuss her sexuality," she said. "But it was [the colleague] who repeatedly approached me, voluntarily seeking to discuss my faith and my Church. She was very needy, and I sensed that; but this need was mixed with hostility to the Christian faith - and, I suspect, to the Jewish and Islamic faith as well - because of the Christian teaching on sexual ethics."

She said that she had given her colleague a Bible when she had been recovering from an illness. "She hugged me, and told me that I was very kind. I was not informed that this was unwelcome," she said.

She was dismissed for gross misconduct in January last year, after a disciplinary hearing was told that she had turned up late for a yoga training session, and had discriminated against her colleague by discussing religious beliefs on sexuality.

"The hearing was wholly disrespectful of my Christian faith - almost sneering about God, and the Church's views on sexual ethics," she said in her witness statement. "I do not believe that Islamic teaching would have been treated in this fashion."

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Previously, similar claims have been argued on human-rights grounds; but this week's hearing argues that dismissing people for expressing religious views is contrary to the provisions on freedom of movement in the Lisbon Treaty.

The Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which is supporting Ms Tshikuna-Mbuyi in her Employment Tribunal claim, said: "There is now a concern that the current levels of discrimination against Christians in the UK mean that Christians from the EU will not seek work in the UK because of a lack of protection for their human rights."

The chief executive of the CLC, Andrea Minichiello Williams, said: "Sharing biblical truths out of genuine love for colleagues is being outlawed in the workplace by an oppressive cultural correctness. There is a culture of fear which shuts down freedom of speech and the expression of faith."

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) this week called on governments to make "reasonable accommodation" for religious beliefs.

"Expression of faith is sometimes unduly limited by national legislation and policies which do not allow the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices," PACE said in a resolution.

"The reasonable accommodation of religious beliefs and practices constitutes a pragmatic means of ensuring the effective and full enjoyment of freedom of religion."

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