Camden Council in north London started deducting five minutes of salary from a member of staff in its children’s department each time he stopped work to pray, likening it to the cigarette breaks enjoyed by smokers.
But Unison, the public service union, took up his case and claimed the man was being discriminated against because of his religion. He had worked for the council for 10 years and took one prayer break a day.
John Shepherd, a union rep, said there was an “obvious discrepancy” between the way the Muslim worker was treated and those who smoke or go to the lavatory more than others.
“In these instances managers do not monitor where staff are every second of the day and make minuscule pay deductions. So why should a Muslim worker be treated any differently? We argued that doing so is likely to be an unlawful deduction of wages and a potential breach of the Equality Act on the basis of the protected characteristic of religious belief.”
Camden has now agreed to stop deducting the unnamed Muslim worker’s pay, but suggested he would have to make up lost time.
Councillor Nash Ali, responsible for the children’s department, told the Camden New Journal: “We do not wish to see small deductions from salaries for small periods of time to pray and I have sought confirmation that arrangements are in place for any employee who wishes to pray during the working day to do so, while making up any missed time at a later date.”
But he added: “The member of staff concerned is employed in a specific role where, under Ofsted guidance, there is a requirement for a fixed staff-to-child ratio to ensure the children and young people in our care are safe."