Minister of Religion wins breach of contract claim after receiving less than minimum wage


A highly respected Vedic Scholar appointed as a Hindu Minister of Religion worked 65 hours a week for less than the minimum wage, a court heard. The case is a clear reminder of the wide-ranging implications of minimum wage legislation for priests and other employees of religious organisations and unincorporated associations across the country.

Employment Law

Dr Harish Chandra, who is a Vedic Scholar, philosopher and a well-known Doctor in Combustion Science awarded by the Princeton University, USA, had a three year fixed term contract terminated after just a few months. It transpired that for the duration of his previous fixed term contract he had not been paid at minimum wage rates. HHJ Purle QC awarded Dr Chandra just over £62,500 following a judgment, which found that Arya Samaj Vedic Mission (West Midlands) had wrongfully dismissed him and failed to comply with the National Minimum Wage legislation.

Dr Chandra, an author of several publications with authority on ancient Sanskrit texts, is highly recognised in the Hindu Community and has been honoured with the title as a VED RATNA for his achievements and knowledge.

The court heard that Dr Chandra had originally been employed by the Executive Committee of the temple in March 2011 and was 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. However, when he commenced working, he found that he was expected to spend a very large amount of his available time working and in fact was provided only with a small single room to live in.

Nonetheless, Dr Chandra proved successful in his role and in March 2012, he was awarded a new three-year contract under the same terms and conditions. However, in July 2012 the Executive Committee members stood down and were replaced by new members whose President was Dr Vidhu Mayor. Shortly thereafter, Dr Chandra's 3 year contract was terminated early.

Even though Dr Chandra's 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. This occurred even in spite of allowing for the statutory accommodation offset rate, which was not the market value of the accommodation that was provided but instead the rate as prescribed by the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which is currently £34.37 per week.

Dr Chandra was represented by Arif Khalfe, a solicitor at national law firm Simpson Millar, who commented:

"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."

"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."

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