Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Church must do better on industrial relations front

The news of planned redundancies in Shrewsbury diocese has caused much consternation.

The matter seems to have been clumsily handled with the news leaking out that the diocese planned to make redundant the positions of justice, peace and social responsibility, youth and marriage and family life workers.

Matters were made worse when it appeared that the trustees who opposed the decision were replaced by others who voted in favour.

The redundancies were justified on the basis of the economic climate. Shrewsbury Diocese has an income of £13.15 million with expenditure of £13.1 million.

The decision to make the redundancies seems a strange one. Joan Sharples, the justice, peace and social responsibility worker earns around £20,000 for a four day week. Hardly a big saving.

There are those though who believe that there is a general move across the country to cut justice and peace workers. Call it paranoia but there is a growing belief in justice and peace circles that there are those in the hierarchy that want to replace these workers with the Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN).

Prior to the announcement in Shrewsbury, Salford lost its J&P worker and embraced CSAN. Though, by way of contrast, Nottingham diocese has just appointed a new worker.

At present there are 12 J&P workers (including Shrewsbury) in the 22 diocese, many part time. It would not be difficult to squeeze out these positions, effectively replacing the J&P worker with CSAN. Many no doubt would say, what is the matter with that? Maybe there needs to be a new model for doing social justice work.

This may well be true but it must be done in conjunction with the existing network. The concern of those in justice and peace is that a top down CSAN structure will concern itself in the main with charity more than justice. This though remains to be seen.

There does seem to be a growing relationship between those in CSAN and NJPN, so it must be hoped that the two can work together in harmony moving forward.

The wider point here though is dignity of work. At the NJPN annual conference last July, the focus was on justice in the workplace. The dignity of work as laid out in the social justice teachings of the Church from Rerum Novarum (1891) through to Justice in the World (1971) and beyond.

There was discussion of the need to be a member of a trade union and the positive Church teachings on this subject.

There were concerns raised about the way those who work for the Church have been treated.

One contributor Dr Rosemary Power told how bullying was “a major problem” in the Church. She claimed people were being subjected to constant criticism, deliberately overworked, verbally attacked in public and having gossip spread about them.

There is also the position of the priests and nuns, who seem to have hardly any basic labour rights. There is a lack of pension provision and the relationship between bishop and priest is a wholly one sided one, where the priest in many cases is a totally powerless party.

The Church has ofcourse made strides to improve the lot of its workers, signing up to the living wage campaign. But even here, the Church is often working toward paying the living wage rather than actually doing it.

If the Church is to really live up to the demands of its own social teachings on dignity in the workplace, then it should be an exemplary employer. All of those employed, clergy and laity should have full employment rights. They should be members of trade unions in order to ensure that these rights are upheld.

Indeed, the Church should go further. Making people redundant, whatever the organisation or cause marks a failure of management. An inadequacy to manage resources properly. It would not be too ambitious to suggest that no Church organisation should make its staff compulsorily redundant.

There is much to consider on the Church industrial relations front. There are deficiencies, with much required to put this right. The goal should be for the Church to become a model employer, applying the spirit as well as the letter of the social teachings to its daily practice. This would be an admirable goal to set moving forward.

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