"The message coming from Strasbourg is that although people are entitled to hold religious views, that right is severely limited in the workplace when it comes into conflict with the rights of other people. The judgement also hands considerable discretion to employers to set reasonable policies and then insist that employees follow them whatever their religious beliefs."
- Robert Pigott, Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News.
“British courts lost their way in her case and Strasbourg has actually acted more in keeping with our traditions of tolerance. Let’s hope that some of those who threaten to pull out of the ECHR remember this case in the future. However the Court was also right to uphold judgments in other cases that employers can expect staff not to discriminate in the discharge of duties at work.”Dear Everyone,
- Sharmi Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty
As an employer I welcome yesterday's rulings from the ECHR and would like to take the opportunity of clarifying my employment policies as they relate to those working for me who are Christians.
I should begin by emphasising that I cannot speak for British Airways. Echoing Robert Pigott, however, I take the view that as a private company it should, I believe, in principle be free to exercise its own discretion with regard to its employment policies.
Let me now turn to the cases involving people who were working for me. As a Council Tax payer employing registry office staff.I expect registrars to keep abreast of the latest ideological trends and update their own views accordingly. Yes, Mrs Ladele, I'm you sure are warm and enthusiastic and the couples you married loved you, and I have taken due note of your ethnicity, but you can't seriously expect me to let you opt out of bits of your job just because you say they're against your conscience. I don't pay you to have a conscience, and how am I supposed to run a diversity policy if everybody insists on being different?
As for relationship counsellors, I emply them indirectly via the "charity" Relate ("Relate's 'voluntary' income is predominately made up of grants from statutory & other bodies"). This makes no difference to my expectations of them, which are exactly the same as for those who report to me directly As an employer committed to nurturing diversity I expect those who work for me to think as I think.
It has been put to me that Mr Gary McFarlane is an able and conscientious counsellor, and that he belongs to an ethnic group which is underrepresented in Relate's workforce. Questions have been raised as to whether it was reasonable to dismiss him not because of anything he had done but because of what he said he would do in a hypothetical situation which had never actually arisen in the course of his work. It has been suggested that requests for sexual counselling from same-sex couples could easily have been fielded by his colleagues.
Mischievous comparisons have been drawn between the right of conscientious objection granted to pacifists during the war against Hitler and the non-negotiable requirement for Mr McFarlane to be prepared to teach gay couples how to do sex.
Look, I'M THE BOSS ROUND HERE AND I MAKE THE RULES, OK?
Phew, that feels better already.
With regard to the wonderful nurses who work for me in hospitals around the country, I will be brief. Anyone needing to be treated in an NHS hospital can rest assured that, whilst it may not be possible for busy nursing staff to provide them with drinks of water on a more than weekly basis, they will be absolutely safe from the health and safety risks associated with religious jewellery. I operate a strictly zero tolerance policy in this matter and I have zero sympathy with anyone falling foul of it. Good nurses are ten a penny - Shirley Chaplin please note.
Returning to the quotes with which I began, I am delighted to announce that Robert Pigott of the BBC is my Employee of the Month. This award is in recognition of his clear-sighted understanding of my prerogatives as an employer. Please join me in congratulating him.
I was going to share the award between Robert and Sharmi Chakrabarti, until it was pointed out to me that Sharmi doesn't actually work for me (though I am thrilled to be able to support her work through the charitable status enjoyed by the Civil Liberties Trust). Thank goodness for people like her who appreciate that whilst liberty is a fine thing in its proper place, those who accept employment from me leave their liberty (and their consciences) at the workplace door. Nothing must stand in the way of my ensuring that people like me are not permitted to work for me.
With my very best wishes for the year ahead,
PS If you ever feel you would like to work for me, Sharmi, my office door is always open. Just reach out.