Vicars have a trade union

UNITE – the UK’s biggest trade union – has a vicar’s section. Wow. Blimey.

The union is currently a bit pissed off by the state of vicarages.

Some Church of England clergy and their families are living in crumbling and decrepit vicarages that are unsafe and environmentally unfriendly, according to trade union officials.
Unite, the country’s largest union that represents about 2,500 faith workers, is calling on the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu, to “practise what they preach” in terms of the carbon footprint left by hundreds of parsonages.
Unite want the Archbishops to revamp more than 6,000 vicarages and rectories that the union claims fail to meet modern environmental and safety standards. (from the Times)

OK, I am genuinely impressed that “faith workers” have joined a union. If you happen to be a vicar you can find out more from the UNITE webpage about their faith worker section.

I am even a bit impressed by the word “faith workers”. It sounds a bit like people who can work miracles by faith, which I guess they would see as coming naturally with the job description. But it also makes them sound a bit like prostitutes, who tend to get called “sex workers” by people who are trying not to offend them.

But, I am diverted by the prospect of there ever being a vicar’s strike. How long would it take for anyone to notice?

As someone living in a house which even the rawest curate would turn up his or her nose at, I was initially a bit unsympathetic to the complaints about their houses not being palaces. (Except for the Archbishop of Canterbury, I assume, as his home is called Lambeth Palace. I reckon the clue’s in the name.)

However, being a faith worker doesn’t seem to be quite the ideal job that you might assume if you are going on the same idea as me: “only work one day a week, get free housing and all the sherry you can drink.” Unite says:

“Ministers of Religion” have no employment rights and Unite is campaigning strongly to obtain these.

The New Humanist site said last year that:

We’d have had the Church of England down as fairly decent employers – short hours, free biscuits … you get the picture. Plus your overall boss would be the Archbeard, who seems like a nice enough guy. But it turns out the Diocese of Worcester has been trying to sidestep giving its clergy protection under regular employment law by claiming the buck stops at an infinitely higher desk.

Bloody hell, if you have an employment contract with god, it must be a bugger to enforce your rights under it. He’s so busy working in mysterious ways that, when you are being infested with mice and frogs (as in the case the New Humanist post discussed), he hasn’t got the time to send round the exterrminators. Unless of course, he deliberately sent a plague of frogs and you were too atheistic a vicar to realise that was one minor righteous smiting being applied to you.

(Luckily I can help you here, vicars. Now, you can speak directly to the man upstairs via his holiday postcards blog. I can’t promise he’ll turn up at an employment tribunal, though. Better stick with UNITE.)

According to the Times, church organists got employment rights in February 2008. So vicars might be feeling a bit jealous. Coveting their neighbour’s employment rights, even. If the Times is to believed:

Episodes of bad blood between vicars and organists …. could end following a judgment by an employment tribunal that organists are church employees.
Robert Leach, director of Organist Publications, a company that provides assistance for church organists, said: “This is a landmark decision …… It is estimated that about two thirds of qualified organists are no longer prepared to accept an appointment in the Church. Problems working with vicars is one of the most quoted reasons.”