A priest forced to work a 65-hour week for just £500 per month has won a £62,000 payout – and said his case should be a warning to religious groups around the country.
Hindu Dr Harish Chandra, a respected scholar, sued the Birmingham temple which employed him for failing to comply with minimum wage legislation – he effectively earned £2 per hour – and wrongful dismissal.
He was awarded the sum for unpaid wages and breach of contract in a judgment at Birmingham County Court by His Hon Judge Charles Purle, QC after he sued Arya Samaj Vedic Mission (West Midlands), in Nechells.
The court heard the priest worked a 65-hour week and was paid £500 a month – working out at less than £2 per hour.
Dr Chandra, an acclaimed author and authority on ancient Sanskrit texts, had originally been employed by the executive committee of Arya Samaj in March 2011 having been recruited from India.
His 12-month contract gave him £500 per month, a one-bedroom apartment and an arrangement that allowed him to receive commission based on those attending his courses.
But when he started working Dr Chandra found he was expected to spend a large amount of his free time working and was provided with just a small single room to live in – meaning his wife could not live with him. He was also required to travel around the country, often staying overnight.
Despite the difficulties he encountered Dr Chandra continued in his role and in March 2012 was awarded a new three-year contract under the same terms and conditions.
However, in July 2012 the temple’s executive committee members stood down and were replaced by new members and in August that year Dr Chandra’s three year contract was terminated early.
Dr Chandra’s legal team argued that even though his contract provided for a payment, there was no clause specifying the number of hours to be worked, which led to his payment being considered “unmeasured work” rather than a salary. As Dr Chandra was expected to work a substantial number of hours, this resulted in the failure to pay minimum wage rates.
Speaking after the case, Dr Chandra said: “They kept on adding more work which was not specified in my contract. I was working very hard. Being made redundant was like a bombshell for me and was quite unexpected.
“I thought these people were my friends. It was disrespectful and very upsetting. My wife, my children and I – we didn’t expect such a thing. There was no justification for them to do what they did.”
He added: “I am very delighted to have reached this point and would like to congratulate my legal team who were able to successfully argue all of the crucial points so well – particularly the fact that the Arya Samaj was an unincorporated association and that I was receiving payment for the hours worked as opposed to a salary.”
Dr Chandra was represented by Arif Khalfe, of law firm SM Commercial, who said the findings could have serious implications for religious groups and other voluntary organisations if their status is classed as “unincorporated”.
He said: “There are numerous priests and others employed by religious organisations and unincorporated associations across the country that are in a similar situation to that in which Dr Chandra found himself.
“For them, this case will have set a clear reminder in terms of underlining their employment rights.”
Mr Khalfe added: “Further, due to Arya Samaj being an unincorporated association, the members of the executive committee in position at the time of the wrongful dismissal will be liable personally for the damages awarded and legal costs. Unincorporated associations should think carefully about their constitutional arrangements and how potential liabilities will be handled before engaging workers or employees, and should take care when making decisions about the continued employment of workers/employees that they already have.”
Mr Khalfe said Dr Chandra had been “left in limbo” throughout the lengthy legal battle.
“He’s had to wait almost two years and has gone through tremendous problems,” he said.
“He had to live with his son in London, had no money and couldn’t apply for benefits while having to wait for the case to go through.”
The Arya Samaj Vedic Mission declined to comment on the case.