Staff at a chain of care homes will not be paid overtime for working on Christmas Day, because the chain says the move would discriminate against other religions.
The move has been called “bonkers” by one MP and criticised by the Bishop of Exeter.
One unnamed member of staff said she was “stunned” by the decision and she claimed that management were off for two weeks over Christmas.
The care group, Guinness Care and Support, said: “We have a strong ethical belief in equality and diversity and are unable to recognise one religious festival over others.”
The company says it only pays staff extra for working on bank holidays. This year Christmas Day and Boxing Day fall at the weekend and so staff working on those days will not qualify.
Labour’s Ben Bradshaw criticised the move saying: “We are still an overwhelmingly Christian society and Christmas is a religious festival and a public holiday.”
The Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Rev Michael Langrish, hit out at the “cynical use of the equality agenda” while Tory MP Hugo Swire called the move “bonkers”.
Guinness Care and Support run a number of care homes around the country as well as offering services to elderly people in their homes.
Mr Bradshaw is MP for Exeter where Guinness Care and Support own eight residential homes. He said: “I am surprised at their stance”.
Mr Bradshaw added: “Other religious festivals are not public holidays and I do not think Guinness is comparing like with like. Christmas Day is the one day that people want to be with their loved ones and if they have to work on that day they should be paid accordingly.”
The Bishop of Exeter said: “The company, Guinness Care and Support, speaks of ethics and equality, but I don’t think it is at all serious about either.
“Its policy prioritises the non-religious over the religious.”
He said the move exploited care workers who are “already often among the lowest-paid in our society” and who play “a hugely important role in the life and health of our communities”.
He commented: “To deny them the opportunity to be with their families on Christmas Day, and to fail to properly reward them for that sacrifice, is to further exploit them.”
The Bishop added: “The company is trying to hide its Scrooge-like meanness behind the language of equality.”
The unnamed member of staff said: “Due to the nature of the work we expect to work festive times and give up our own time with our families knowing we are giving time, care and support to those who are unfortunate enough to need to live in care homes.
“But for the management to deem that we do not deserve some sort of bonus – like the majority of other employees at this time of year – is not a reflection of their mantra of care and support in the community. It obviously excludes their own staff.”
Last year the Employers Forum on Belief (EFB) warned that shutting the office over Christmas or putting up religious decorations could be seen as discriminatory by non-Christian staff.
The EFB, which includes representatives from the Government, Barclays Bank and West Midlands Police, said at the time that its booklet gives guidance on the “significance of Christmas, parties, working hours and holiday time”.
It claimed non-Christians could resent that they have to take holiday to celebrate their own religious festivals when all staff are given time off over Christmas.