Orville Taylor | Six days shall thou labour?
A set of my friends from high school take the keeping of Sunday as the chosen day of worship very seriously. Therefore, they will not be reading this commentary until tomorrow; and I am quite all right with that. The problem is that by the time they get to the discourse, it will be stale news. As incredible as it might sound, one can find scriptural bases for the non-celebration of any specific day, and importantly, there are several verses in the New Testament that can be used as justification for such a day. Some Christian denominations even go as far as to refer to Sunday as their Sabbath. Nonetheless, the debate as to whether there is a biblical foundation for the selection of Sunday as the day that Jesus would have them set aside for the Lord is subject for another column not this one.
I will go so far and stick my neck out and say, however, that I see nothing in the teachings of Jesus or Paul thats says that we should be bound by any of the Old Testament rules, and that includes keeping any Sabbath. Thus, the 'Sharia' laws of stoning adulterers, blasphemers, homosexuals, disobedient children, and Sabbath breakers are all nonsense to me. No one can make me sleep in a different bed from my spouse during her menses, and if my ass is in the hole on any day, I had better take it out or kiss it goodbye.
We live in a country where more than 300,000 Jamaicans list their religious affiliation as Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) and another motley crew of other denominations who worship on Saturday, the day chosen under Old Testament scripture as being the Sabbath. A not-so-rough estimate could mean that one out of every eight Jamaicans are self-labelled as Sabbath keepers. Among these are the only man who is almost above the law and not subject to arrest by any constable: the Governor General. Prime Minister Andrew Holness is also known to be an Adventist.
A story broke last week when a leader of the SDA subset of the body of Christ was lamenting an International Religious Freedom Report published by the State Department of the United States. It was revealed that many Sabbath worshippers had difficulties in being hired because of their admitted unwillingness to work on Saturdays. to work on Saturdays. One woman complained that she had to change three jobs due to this handicap.
Nigel Coke, public affairs and religious liberty director of the SDA church, commented that it was "... unfortunate, whichever country or whichever organisation, that they don't [recognise] the religious right of individuals according to their God-given conscience. It is a fundamental right to every single man at creation". Sounding almost like a lawyer, Coke opined that "employers are not adhering to the spirit of the flexi-work hours law".
Clearly taking more than a sniff of Coke's comments, veteran attorney Howard Mitchell seemed to have switched roles with him and chewed religious fire to the point of giving legal advice, which, I would dare to say, is unsound. Mitchell, the president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), declared that it was a breach of the organisation's constitution to discriminate against anyone based on religion. Therefore, "If you are asked if you can work on Saturdays and you have reasonable suspicion that you didn't get the job because of your religion, you can ask why you didn't get the job."
Here, I totally agree with him because it is always useful for any rejected candidate to ascertain why. In his capacity as PSOJ head, Mitchell proffered that if discovered that any member company refused to employ due to a person's religious beliefs, it "would have to terminate their membership because we can't have a member that is in breach of the constitution of Jamaica".
The attorney's advice is either to engage an attorney or take the matter to the media.
Going to the media, a 24-hour essential-service industry, where employees of all faiths and creeds have to work round the clock, is a very good idea and would garner ton loads of sympathy. My question is, why and where does the learned counsel think that denying a person a job because of religious practice, not belief, is successfully actionable?
First of all, a court cannot force a person to be placed on the job and enforce a contract that has never been established. Neither can it reinstate any worker. Furthermore, the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT), which can, only has jurisdiction over industrial disputes, that is, after a person has been contracted and dismissed or otherwise mistreated. My suspicion is, therefore, that Mitchell is speaking of taking the matter to the high court over a violation of the Constitution.
So where is the legal basis? When does my personal right become an obligation that my employer or colleague or anyone else must support? Section 13 (3)(i) of the Supreme Statute guarantees "the right to freedom from discrimination on the ground of (ii) race, place of origin, social class, colour, religion or political opinions".
RELIGION VS WORK
Does that mean that in the exercise of any right of a citizen, he can force into contract any pattern of behaviour that may be inimical to another person? For example, does a Rastafarian have the right to wear dreadlocks in police uniform? Can a Muslim nurse or doctor refuse to touch a member of the opposite sex to whom he/she is not married? How would you get a Hindu to work in the cattle abattoir?
The fact is, in the field of industrial relations and constitutional law, it has been often held that personal right such as freedom of association does not mean that an employer has to recognise your trade union without a poll. Freedom of expression does not give you the right to say as you please. The right to belong to a trade union does not mean the right to strike, and freedom of movement does not give a person the right to trespass into my yard.
As for the spirit of the flexitime law, this was precisely the main issue when I did the work for the ILO because what Adventists wanted was privileging, not equality. Under the statute, a day is a day is a day. There are many professions that conflict with peoples' beliefs and they thus choose wisely.
This is one of the few times when I would do field service with the Jehovah's Witnesses, who simply do not participate in industries that prevent them from exercising their faith. Bet none of them work in the Blood Bank.
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