For the majority of people, Christmas Day will be spent pulling crackers with family and friends. There will be a turkey in the oven, gifts to unwrap and perhaps a little too much booze. But for an estimated one in ten UK workers Christmas Day will be much like any other as they will be required to forsake the festivities and turn up for work.
Those providing emergency and essential services are all accustomed to missing out on the traditional Christmas dinner. These include doctors, nurses, police officers and ambulance and fire crews. Lifeboat volunteers and those engaged in other rescue services may be required. In addition council workers may be called upon to grit the roads. And, of course, we must not forget the men and women serving in the armed forces, particularly those stationed overseas.
But Christmas Day working is not confined to these professions alone. There are many staff employed within commercial properties who will also be giving up on the stuffing and cranberry sauce. Kitchen staff and waiters will be busy in restaurants and hotels. Many pubs and bars will also require their staff on duty too.
In fact in recent years, employees in the UK have been working over Christmas in increasing numbers. While some staff may quietly welcome the excuse to escape the party games for a few hours, others may not be so happy to do so and studies suggest they are not being rewarded in terms of bonuses and tips to the extent they once were.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) warns that, while it may have become accepted practice, employers are not legally obliged to pay more for Christmas Day working unless it is written into the contract of employment. Some fear that the growing 24/7 culture is slowly eroding the traditional family Christmas and that it could soon go the way of Sunday and become just a normal trading day.
So can we expect to see the big retail commercial properties throwing open their doors on Christmas morning? Unless there is a change in the law the answer is no. Currently the Christmas Trading Act of 2004 prohibits any retail commercial property over 3,000 square feet from trading on Christmas Day. However the act does not apply to smaller commercial properties which are free to open when they choose.
While many local shops will open for a few hours to provide customers with the opportunity to stock up on essentials the news that around 60 McDonald’s outlets plan to open has dismayed church leaders. The Daily Mail last week quoted a vicar complaining that while people providing essential services having to work on Christmas Day is understandable, fast food restaurants don’t fall into this category. “It’s sad that we’ve got to the point in our society where something that means as much as Christmas seems to mean so little;” he said. A McDonald’s spokesman defended the decision saying many of their commercial properties are run as franchises and are free to determine their own opening times. “There are perhaps a number of people who do not celebrate Christmas;” he added.
So as staff prepare to work on Christmas Day who will be earning what? According to figures published in the Telegraph a GP locum or an emergency dentist can expect to earn between £1,000 and £1,500 for giving up on the festivities. And the lowest paid? Well if we have a white Christmas, snow shovellers and gritters will be clearing our roads and footpaths for between £7.50 and £8.50 per hour.