20 October 2016

Part II: Do Clergy Need A Union?

The next question in our 'Embrace The Awkward' series has been on my mind a lot lately. I've noticed over the last couple of years that there are quite a lot of workplace issues for clergy workers relating to wages, hours and workplace safety. This isn't to say that there aren't wonderful policies and pastoral care in place, but there are some definite gaps that I've come across which got me thinking of contacting the Clergy Worker's Union to see what's being done to ensure clergy have fair and safe workplaces.
Except for one problem. There isn't one.
To be honest, I found this hard to believe. In a country that publically acknowledges Religious Minister as a paid profession who are required to pay tax and superannuation - is there really no one independently advocating for the rights and safety of the workers in the church, should the need arise?

So I contacted the National Australian Worker's Union (with their encouraging advice "If you are not sure which union to join, contact us and we can help") to see what insight they had. I received the following message:

"I'm sorry I do not know which union would cover your job description.."

This was a bit of a shock. While they aren't the only union in Australia (there are approximately 100), they've been around since 1886 and could not advise me who might best support these workers.

When I worked briefly as a nurse years ago, nurses' rights were all anyone could talk about on our shifts. People seemed to forget that while nurses are PAID to do the work they feel is their vocation, their rights to a safe and healthy workplace were often forgotten. It seems we are in a similar position now with clergy workers.

Many clergy workers and their families I've spoken to over the years have said with a shrug: "It's just how things are". But the cost of 'just how things are' can have some intensely stressful effects such as unsafe housing, unexpected loss of your job with no severance pay, hours that go unpaid or underpaid (see Part I here), lack of education or resources to make a safe workplace, or lack of independent mediator services - to name a few.

With new policies and legislation becoming compulsory for Australian churches, particularly relating to church member safety, there seems to be a shift towards the church having the responsibilities and consequences of a business.

And as many businesses and charity organisations know, there is strong evidence to suggest that workers are healthier, happier and more efficient if they are employed in a positive work culture (for more information read this article from Harvard Business Review).

So my question becomes: Do Clergy Workers Need A Union?
What is a Union?
"A union is an organisation of workers or employees who have joined together to achieve common goals.  These goals can include seeking higher pay and better working conditions, fighting for job security and protecting the integrity of a trade."
- Australian Workers Union

How Would A Union Help?"A union, through its officials and delegates, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members...and negotiates (or engages in collective bargaining) to reach enterprise agreements with employers.  This bargaining may include the negotiation of wages, work practices, dispute procedures, recruitment, disciplinary and termination protocols, benefits, workplace safety and company policies. Enterprise agreements negotiated by the union are binding on the employer and all employees, including non-members."
- Australian Workers Union

Who Should Join A Union?
"Everyone
who works in Australia is entitled to join a union." - AWU

Now I'm not a lawyer, so I can't claim to know all the outcomes or consequences of a Clergy Worker's Union, nor do I wish to place extra burdens on communities who struggle to pay their clergy workers - but I want to start the conversation.

Should clergy have an independent entity to look after their interests as workers? Would you join a union?  Let's start talking about this!

~ Rachel