Pastor weighs into SkyCity Bible row

TUNI PARATA: The SkyCity Casino worker has been threatened with disciplinary action for carrying a bible in her pocket at work.
TUNI PARATA: The SkyCity Casino worker has been threatened with disciplinary action for carrying a bible in her pocket at work.

A pastor to the casino worker facing disciplinary action for carrying a pocket Bible at work has questioned whether she would have met the same fate if she had been caught with a Koran.

Tuni Parata spoke tearfully yesterday of how she loved her job as a tower host at Auckland's Sky City and wanted to stay despite facing a disciplinary hearing and a possible final written warning for carrying the Bible in her pocket in breach of the casino's uniform policy.

"I didn't mean to offend anyone by having a bible with me and I'm sorry if I have," she said.

Her pastor at Faith City Church, Mark Nicholas, said the Christian message was one of love and because of this, Parata may have been seen as a "soft target".

"I wonder what the response would have been if she was carrying another religious symbol - a Koran or something."

Backed by the Unite Union, the devout Christian grandmother is locked in a battle with casino bosses who say she can't carry the Bible at work.

Letters from the casino to Parata, released by the union, indicate she had been warned several times in the past about carrying non-work items into the "front of house" area.

Sky City also reminded her that she could have requested an exemption to the policy but had not done so.

Employment barrister Andrew Scott-Howman said the case was a "brilliant use of public media by the union".

He said the fact it was a Bible had raised the stakes when it was "irrelevant really".

It was a different case to a turban, for example, as carrying the Bible was not a requirement of Parata's religion, Scott-Howman said.

Parata called her pocket-Bible her "companion" and said she usually kept it in her bag, but on this latest occasion decided to keep it with her, in her pocket and out of sight.

Sky City bosses have told her she could be issued with a final warning at the hearing which will be held today.

Parata said the ordeal kept her awake at night and frequently reduced her to tears.

She said management had kept a close eye on her on the floor and she has also been admonished for fanning herself while at work during the summer.

 "It makes it a little bit tense and I want to ask 'Well what can I do?' Everything I do it seems to have a complaint about me."

"It can be difficult because its like they're watching your every move."

The Unite union has called the no-Bible rule "absurd" and wants to see it overturned.

"We don't think that's a reasonable and therefore not a lawful instruction," Unite union national director Mike Treen said.

"This rule we think is too draconian and inevitably people break that rule because it's a stupid rule and then inevitably people get caught. We've had enough and we are saying that this is absurd and we will challenge it."

Treen said they had previously postponed Thursday's disciplinary hearing in order to try and reason with the company. However, they had now given up and gone public in the hope of "shaming and embarrassing them into backing down".

Parata had not been fired but was told the possible outcome of the meeting could be a final written warning, even though Parata has not had formal warnings before, Treen said.

SkyCity's group services general manager Grainne Troute said Treen's comments were "alarmist" and did not fairly reflect the situation.

"A breach of uniform policies such as this was not considered 'serious misconduct' and would not be expected to result in the dismissal of any staff member."

She said different roles had different uniform standards "but as a general principle staff in customer service roles are in breach of SkyCity's uniform standards if they carry items such as mobile phones, books and other items which might interfere with their full engagement with their customers".

In a letter from Sky Tower operations manager Jennifer Philpott to Parata, Philpott said she understood Parata drew inspiration from her Bible but said they expected staff to be completely focussed on their duties.

She said other staff members could gain inspiration in other ways such as from iPods or smoking and staff had to "draw a line somewhere".

Treen said this was a "dismissive" response to Parata's request.

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