September 30, 2008

Church admits clergy not employed by God

by David Masters

A British vicar has won a landmark legal victory that saw his employers admit that clergy are not employed by God, but by the Church.

The ruling is set to send ruptures throughout religious groups in the UK, as their employees become subject to minimum wage and anti-discrimination laws.

Reverend Mark Sharpe, a former policeman who was employed as a vicar in the Teme Valley South, took his employer, the Worcester Diocese, to court after he was subjected to threats and verbal abuse from locals, and forced to live in a vicarage infested by mice and with unsafe electrics and gas.

At an employment tribunal in Birmingham, the church agreed that Sharpe had the status of a worker for the purposes of the claim in question.

No final decision was reached in the tribunal, and the case is set for judicial mediation within the next few months.

If Sharpe’s appeal for compensation is upheld, religious groups across the UK could see their members become subject to legislation such as the minimum wage, health & safety, whistleblowing, anti-discrimination, flexible working policies, and the Working Time Directive.

Unite, the largest trade union in the UK, said if Sharpe wins it will be the biggest change to hit the Church of England since the Reformation in the 1530s.

The Church, however, claims that ‘worker’ is not the same status as ‘employee’, and as such any ruling will not have widespread implications.

The case continues.

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