Christmas? It's just another day at work

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Spare a thought for the growing band who missed out on the turkey, TV and time with the family to keep the country going

While most of the country confined their exertions to gobbling up turkey and prodding the buttons on the TV remote control, more Britons than ever found themselves having to clock in on Christmas Day.

Nearly a million people, about 3.5 per cent of the total workforce, spent yesterday at work. They ranged from road clearers to farmers, paramedics, midwives and police officers.

Figures released today by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of people working the holiday in 2008 had risen to 881,000, up from 741,000 in 2004 and 872,000 in 2006. In the two years since the latest research was conducted, the number is understood to have continued to rise.

Care assistants, nursing auxiliaries and nurses made up a third of those working on 25 December, with a total of 290,000 clocking in. Other professions with high numbers working included chefs and cooks (28,000), security guards (27,000) and police officers (25,000).

The profession with the highest proportion of its employees working was the clergy, with 57 per cent. Around a third of all paramedics, farm managers and midwives have to treat the day like any other.

Public sector workers were more likely to have to shun the holiday, with 4.7 per cent working, compared with 3 per cent in the private sector.

Nick Palmer, an ONS statistician, said: "These figures from our Labour Force Survey [LFS] give a fascinating picture of who works – or say they work – on Christmas Day. One might expect more than 57 per cent of clergy to have been at work. Perhaps some vicars don't regard holding services as working! It's good, though, to see that farm, pub and hotel managers aren't passing the buck – they came in to work in higher proportions than the staff they manage.

"However," he continued, "the LFS won't pick up absolutely everyone who has to work over Christmas – it's only carried out on UK addresses, so unfortunately our sample will never pick up Santa and his little helpers, no matter how many hours they put in at this time of year.

"Of course, the high proportions of hotel managers and farm workers at work is consistent with frequent anecdotal evidence of inns being booked out and shepherds having to work overnight at this time of year."

People in Scotland were most likely to work, with one in 20 having to skip the festivities. The lowest proportion of employees working at Christmas was in Northern Ireland, where just 2 per cent did not take a day off.

In some cases the cold weather has also meant more staff were forced to forgo the holiday. Thames Water doubled its leak-fixing team over the Christmas period to deal with a quadrupling in the number of burst and leaking pipes thanks to the prolonged freezing temperatures since November.

The Independent on Sunday spoke to just a few of the people who kept Britain moving as the rest of us slumped on the couch...

The midwife

Linsey Lynes, 27, midwife at the Royal Infirmary labour ward, Edinburgh

"I started at 8 and I'll go on until 8.30 on the ward. Everyone's on good form, we've all got Santa hats and reindeer antlers on. There are 11 of us on the labour ward and it's been pretty civilised, with no dramas yet.

"We've got six patients here and no twins due, thank God. We already had Christmas babies overnight, four, I think. I've already delivered one Christmas baby, a boy called Darius, who was born at 11.50. His father is from Czechoslovakia, so they had Christmas yesterday because they celebrate on Christmas Eve. They'll be going home later today as they've got another boy at home. The delivery was easy, but the mother was in labour for about 15 hours.

"I'm just going to weigh the baby now and then have something to eat. I'll get my Christmas dinner on Boxing Day, but for Christmas everyone brings in party food like pizza and sausage rolls; I've brought in cheese and biscuits.

"This is my third Christmas and my husband is sad I'm working, but he's spending the day with his family. I'll leave opening my presents until I get back so I've got something to look forward to.

"We don't get paid extra, we just get normal Saturday hours because the public holidays are on the Monday and Tuesday. I'd do it regardless of the money, though, and I had Christmas off last year so it's my turn.

"It's nice to deliver a baby on Christmas Day and be part of a special moment, but I'd still rather be at home."

The soldier

Captain Simon Poulter, 32, from Hitchin, Hertfordshire, working in Lashkar Gah

"I've been out here since early October working in the Task Force Helmand headquarters. I'm about half-way through my tour, working in media ops. Christmas has been good fun so far. We had Midnight Mass last night in our church, which, like every other building at the headquarters, is a tent. We pulled the sides up, turned all the lights off and lit candles. It was a really moving service, taken by the task-force padre, Andrew Totten. There were about 60 of us there.

"My wife, Sarah, is out in Portugal, and I spoke to her this morning. I'll speak to my parents later, too. It's difficult being away at this time of year, as it's Sarah's birthday on the 23rd too. There's no extra pay for being out at Christmas, but we do get an extra half hour on our phone cards and a box of presents from the charity UK4U – thanks! It's sad to be away, but I know it's a worthwhile job.

"The chef made a big effort for our Christmas lunch, putting on crackers and party poppers, and making it all festive. We've got a sports competition later, with events like Santa's sledge pull – we're still not quite sure what that will involve. We've also got the band of the Parachute Regiment going round Helmand in a helicopter doing mini carol concerts for everyone."

The water-pipe technician

Peter Sissons, 55, from Cricklewood, north London

"I had to warn my wife not to expect me round much this Christmas. There are four times as many burst pipes as normal at the minute because of all the cold weather. I've been working for Thames Water for the past 38 years, and this year is pretty bad. Christmas Day has been quite busy already. I got in at about 2.30 this morning and it's 11 in the morning now and I'm about to head out again. I've got to go into Paddington and finish a job that was started on Christmas Eve. There's a leak that's flooding into a basement that someone is living in. He's coping with it but it's not much fun.

"You don't get extra money for Christmas. We just work banked hours so it doesn't matter what day it is. Of course I'd rather be at home, but it's something you just have to do; it's part of your work."

The publicans

Elaine and Brian Rey, 59 and 66, landlords ofthe Ship Inn, Aldborough, North Yorkshire

"Brian's lost his voice – he's got this wretched cold and he sounds as if he's been sucking on a helium balloon, but he's still at work. We got up at seven to start preparing everything, after getting to bed at half three in the morning from doing Christmas Eve.

"As soon as we said last New Year's Eve that we'd be providing food this Christmas Day, it was booked out within a few hours. We've got about 45 people for an eight-course lunch and four of us in the kitchen to make it.

"The dining room had to be finished this morning, and the chefs had to start cooking. Brian started the gravy early; he had to make 75 litres from scratch as that's what we're famous for, and then they've got the Yorkshire puddings. Our staff get double pay but we do it for the love of it. It's nice to see everyone enjoying it. It's a worry waiting for it to come, but once it gets going I can relax. Brian's had six days off in the past 27 years but he loves what he does. Everyone wants to go to the pub and celebrate with their friends, but that's what we have every day."

The road gritter

Nick Hoare, 36, road gritter for Buckinghamshire County Council, High Wycombe

"We've been literally snowed under with work this month. To make the roads clear for Christmas Day we've been gritting from half one in the morning until seven o'clock. We went all around High Wycombe and towards Princes Risborough. I've had about three hours' sleep but I feel fine, and will spend the rest of the day with my girlfriend's family. I may fall asleep after lunch and then I'll be gritting again in the early hours of Boxing Day. I expect I'll be pretty tired.

"Last year, from 23 November to 23 January, I only had Boxing Day free from work. I last had a day off about a month ago, but you just get on and do it. We get a bit more for working Christmas; £55 is the standard gritting rate and that increases to £80 for those days, but it's more to do with the sense of achievement you get for helping out and making the roads safe for Christmas."

The vicar

The Reverend Sarah Eynstone, 35, chaplain at St Paul's Cathedral, London

"Christmas Day for me started with Midnight Mass at the cathedral, where I assisted with the eucharist. The service started at 11.30pm, and I got to bed at about 2am. It is always so packed we have to turn people away. It was wonderful to see so many people gather at St Paul's. Since Thursday we've probably had about 10,000 people through our doors, which is fantastic. I wasn't on duty for the first Christmas Day service at eight, so I slept in quite late, until 9 o'clock, because I needed to, but I was in for the 11am service. The services have been magnificent, with such a huge number of people, and the music was exceptional too. We had people from all over London and all over the world. After every service we have clergy on all six doors to say goodbye to everyone, so I must have said Happy Christmas to at least 200 people. It's lovely.

"We stop for Christmas lunch at the Cathedral School, for about 160 of us, mostly the choristers and anyone else taking part in the services. After that it's Evensong at 3.15 and that's it for the day, but with Boxing Day on a Sunday I'll be back for another three services.

"My parents live in Surrey, so I can't go home until after the weekend. A priest friend of mine will come over for this evening and we'll slob out in front of the television and watch Coronation Street, I think."

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