Comments: worthy of their hire

It is an interesting fact that those clerics I know personally who have been involved in studying the law around employment of clergy have joined a Union.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Sunday, 11 September 2005 at 8:05pm BST

Dear Martin, they could be self-selecting of course! (ie would you both studying employment law if you are happy with your employment situation?!)

I gues that most free church ministers, and non-ordained CofE staff such as youth ministers and worship leaders in the bigger churches, are probably employees of the local church (set up as a charity). I don't know whether they would have no claim to secular employment rights because the charity is a church though. Maybe Simon knows ?

If we do move to secular "employment" status for priests too, I would prefer that the local church council(s) were the Employer.. That might then be a modern version of Freehold.. allowing some independence of theology and practice for local churches within such a diverse CofE.

Posted by Dave at Monday, 12 September 2005 at 9:11pm BST

UK employment laws apply without distinction as to charity status. The particular issues addressed in this article do not apply to lay employees of Church of England bodies. Of course some of those bodies may be poor employers of lay staff as well!

The issue of how employment rights should be granted to parochial CofE clergy was discussed in the McClean reports. The recommendation was that such clergy should not become employed by anyone, but should remain as office holders, rather than become employees. So neither the local Parochial Church Council nor anybody else will become the employer of the parish clergy.

The commission did consider the alternatives and thought that if (as it did not recommend) employment status was to be granted, then the employer would have to be the Diocesan Board of Finance, for a host of practical legal reasons. But if the synod debates on these reports are anything to go by, the idea of retaining office holder status is very popular and will be what is implemented.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Tuesday, 13 September 2005 at 10:45am BST

Dear Simon, Thanks for the background information.

The last (moderate sized Charismatic-Evangelical) CofE church that I was involved in in the UK had several lay employees in key roles. The same people are still there 9 years later so I guess that that church IS a good employer.

One problem with the current system is that clergy, as against lay employees, are not always the free choice of the local church, nor does the PCC have much it can do if the priest becomes unsatisfactory (nor the Bishop if they have freehold).

I guess the PCC becoming the Employer would only be workable if the clergy were paid by the PCC (with subsidies where necessary from the diocese). But it might help ease potential problems on several fronts!

Posted by Dave at Tuesday, 13 September 2005 at 6:50pm BST

Incumbents in the Church of England are not chosen by the Parochial Church Council, although their chosen representatives have a right of veto over the nominee of the Patron.

The problems that arise from unsatisfactory clergy who cannot be easily be moved will be eased if the McClean proposals to replace Freehold with Common Tenure are eventually adopted.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Tuesday, 13 September 2005 at 11:40pm BST

I have read this discussion with some interest. I'm a lecturer in employment relations and branch president of the Association of University Teachers - at least for the next couple of weeks until I rejoin the dole queue with a redundancy payment.

Simon, unusually, doesn't get it quite right. There are a couple of cases where the parishioners DID choose the parish priest. I was PCC secretary of one of them, and the experience does not incline me to share dave's optimism about the desirability of the practice.

As a member of London Diocesan Synod, I was frankly appalled by the grossly inadequate time given to discussion of common tenure at the July meeting. We had only ten minutes to discuss the matter, and contributions were not very impressive (except, of course, for the measured and cogent remarks of a lecturer from Brunel University). Some comments, both in that meeting and in material that I have subsequently read, such as candidates' addresses for General Synod, really seem frighteningly naive. If priests and ministers are to be given "employment" rights, for example, I think that it is wishful thinking to imagine that the government would acquiesce in an entirely separate tribunal system , rather than using employment tribunals.

Posted by Alan Harrison at Thursday, 15 September 2005 at 2:18pm BST

I happily agree with Alan that my statement "not chosen by the Parochial Church Council" has a few exceptions. But I am glad he agrees it does not automatically lead to happiness.

Nor will Common Tenure lead automatically to happiness. But my own GS election address says (and I hope Alan doesn't find this too distressing):

The McClean reports are two of the best-written synod documents I have ever seen. They proposed that future appointments of clergy, with and without the freehold, should be on the basis of common tenure, normally open-ended until retirement, but subject to removal after a capability procedure. I will strongly support the forthcoming legislation to implement these recommendations. It is essential that all the clergy (including bishops) should be afforded both the protection of employment law and the benefit of modern personnel management practice.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 15 September 2005 at 2:33pm BST

I refer to Alan Harrison's last sentence. The proposal is that clergy removed from office following the capability procedure will have the right to appeal to an Employment Tribunal. There is no intention to set up the church's own parallel system.

Posted by Peter Owen at Thursday, 15 September 2005 at 2:42pm BST

Peter Owen wrote:
"I refer to Alan Harrison's last sentence. The proposal is that clergy removed from office following the capability procedure will have the right to appeal to an Employment Tribunal."

Sorry, Peter, perhaps I didn't make it clear enough. At least one GS candidate for London has made it a plank of his campaign that cases should NOT go to an employment tribunal, but to a specifically ecclesiastical tribunal. At the London Diocesan Synod meeting to which I referred, there was considerable support (applause) especially from the clergy for a speaker proposing such a tribunal.

For my part I don't think that the government would acquiesce in such a change from the draft legislation, and I would personally consider an amendment to this effect extremely undesirable. Less diplomatically, I think it's a daft idea, but it is being mooted.

Posted by Alan Harrison at Thursday, 15 September 2005 at 11:06pm BST

Simon, Alan,

I was optimistic about church workers being appointed by the church rather than by Patrons, based on my own limited experience.

However, they were probably people already known to the church, rather than folk recruited from the national market. The local church as employer would have the right to do that, I guess, as the number of employees would be small. If the diocese were the employer, wouldn't they have to advertise every post nationally and consider all suitable applicants (rather than the existing curate or a person the local church wants 'cos they know him/her for instance?)

I also prefer the local church as employer because of the need, in my view, to avoid the tendency to centralised power ... which would inevitably lead to more conflict given the wide diversity.

Posted by Dave at Saturday, 17 September 2005 at 11:10am BST
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