Workers are entitled to the national minimum wage if they can show that they have to do the work personally. In Singh v Members of the Management Committee of the Bristol Sikh Temple and ors, the Employment Appeal Tribunal said that a priest in a Sikh temple was a worker as he had a contract which required him to turn up and perform the duties himself.

Basic facts

Mr Singh served as the Sikh Priest (or Granthi) at the Bristol Sikh Temple (or Gurdwara) from December 2002 until November 2009.

A document dated 29 July 2001 (which pre-dated his service and which he had not signed) entitled “duties of the Gurdwara Granthi” did not refer to payment of any kind.

However, Mr Singh and his wife received free accommodation, food from voluntary contributions and cash payments of about £50 a week given by members of the congregation. No tax or national insurance were deducted from the payments paid by the management committee members of the Gurdwara and Mr Singh did not declare the income to HMRC.

Mr Singh was not paid during any of the extended holidays he spent in India. However, to avoid any immigration issues on his return to the UK, the management committee wrote a number of letters to the Home Office between 2005 and 2009, referring to his “employment” with them and confirming that he was paid for his services.

When he was dismissed for gross misconduct, he claimed unfair dismissal and entitlement to the national minimum wage.

Unite the union instructed Thompsons to act on Mr Singh’s behalf.

Tribunal decision

The Tribunal said that Mr Singh was not an employee which meant he could not claim unfair dismissal.

It also ruled that he was not a worker and could not therefore claim the national minimum wage because:

  • he did not provide his services in return for "certain remuneration"
  • he could allow substitutes to work in his place
  • the spiritual nature of his role and the religious beliefs of the Gurdwara were inconsistent with a contract

 

EAT decision

The EAT rejected the Tribunal’s decision on all three issues relating to Mr Singh’s status as a “worker” for the national minimum wage legislation.

Firstly, it said that it was irrelevant that he was paid by voluntary donations and that he held an office. In addition, it held that the provision of accommodation could amount to a payment in return for his promise to serve the temple.

Secondly, there was no evidence that he had an unfettered right to send along a substitute and that the documents suggested he owed a personal obligation to serve the temple.

Finally, the Tribunal had given too much emphasis to the spiritual nature of the role, following recent decisions holding that church ministers could be workers or employees.

Comment

In effect, this decision reverses earlier case law which found that Sikh priests were not employees or workers because of the spiritual nature of their role. The case will be remitted to the same Tribunal to consider the substantive issues to Mr Singh’s claim for his entitlement to the national minimum wage during his employment.