Christmas Day working gives fewer grounds for reward

The Guardian, 22/11/10

Working Christmas Day? Increasing numbers are, but did you know there is no legal obligation on an employer to pay extra?Will you be working on Christmas Day this year? If so (and if you live in the UK), you will be one of nearly 6 million people forsaking roast turkey with the family in favour of a day’s graft, according to the most recent estimates.

I’ve done the Christmas Day shift a few times, in the increasingly dim and distant past as a barman, and more latterly producing the sports pages while working for a different newspaper. Though it’s not an issue these days, I must admit there were occasions when it was quite convenient to be able to duck out of the festivities for a few hours. And most persuasive of all, there was always the prospect of a tidy bonus to make it worth my while – either through generous customer tips or through time off earned in lieu.

Increasingly though, as the trend becomes more and more accepted, those that do show up for a Christmas Day shift are finding they have fewer grounds for extra reward. The widely reported story of the chain ofExeter care homes that is refusing to pay its staff extra for working on Christmas Day – ostensibly because it does not want to show preference to one religious holiday over another – is a case in point. But perhaps the most sobering fact to emerge from this sorry tale of modern-day Scroogery is the reminder that there is no legal obligation on an employer to pay you more unless it is specifically written into your contract.

Walk around any city centre on a Sunday afternoon now and you’d be hard-pressed to guess what day of the week it was gauging from the level of commercial activity. But it doesn’t seem so long ago that Sunday trading was confined to the odd DIY store – and working on that day considered exceptional. Times and lifestyles have changed but could Christmas Day be next? If so, we can’t say we haven’t been warned.

Is Christmas Day worth keeping as a day of relaxation or is it time to face up to reality and accept that the world never stops working? And if you’re working on Christmas Day this year, will your employer be paying you a bonus – or is it just another working day like the rest?

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