Staff at a chain of care homes have been refused overtime pay for working on Christmas day, the company believes it would discriminate against other religions.

Guinness Care and Support said its ‘ethical belief in equality’ meant it could not favour Christmas over other religious festivals.

The company has told its staff it would pay extra money only for bank holidays, which rules out Christmas Day and Boxing Day this year because they fall at the weekend.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw has taken up the staff’s case, saying he will be contacting the company, which cares for hundreds of elderly people in more than 20 residential homes.

He said: ‘Christmas Day is the one day that people want to be with their loved ones and, if they have to work on that day, they should be paid accordingly. Other religious festivals are not public holidays and I do not think Guinness is comparing like with like.’

Guinness Care and Support, which runs homes across the country but mainly in the west country, has historical links to the Guinness brewing family but no direct business connection.

Its staff, who provide 24-hour care for elderly residents, were told of the Christmas pay arrangements during meetings in recent days.

Senior human resources manager Mick Green said: ‘We have a strong ethical belief in equality and diversity and are unable to recognise one religious festival over others. Our policy is not to pay extra when staff work during a religious festival.’

He said staff would be paid extra for working on the bank holidays of December 27 and December 28.

Staff say they expect to have to work anti-social hours but one said: ‘The management themselves are on two weeks’ annual leave. It has come as a shock and left us all stunned.’

Hugo Swire, Conservative MP for East Devon, added: ‘I can give you my reaction in one word – bonkers.’