A landmark unfair dismissal case starting tomorrow (Tuesday 10 February) between a vicar and the Church of England at the Court of Appeal could pave the way for the UK’s faith workers finally being awarded basic employment rights said Britain’s largest union Unite.
Mark Sharpe, a vicar who was driven out of his parish in Worcestershire by a campaign of hate lasting several years, is being backed by his union, Unite as the Church of England seeks to overturn an earlier employment appeal tribunal that ruled in his favour.
The Church of England currently maintains that ministers are denied basic employment protections because it argues they are office holders rather than employees and that they are only governed by the law derived from the church itself.
The earlier employment appeal tribunal ruled that Rev Sharpe and the Church of England were in an employer/employee relationship and that it had failed to protect him in line with their duty as an employer.
Unite believes that a positive decision by the Appeal Court will have a major impact on faith workers’ employment protection and ensure that, as with other workers, they can seek justice for unfair treatment under the law of the land.
The case will be heard on 10/11 February at the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London W2A 2LL
Sally Kosky,Unite national officer, said: "It is deeply disappointing that the Church of England has gone to such lengths to avoid its responsibility as an employer. Our legal opinion, which is backed by a previous employment appeal tribunal, is that Rev Sharpe was an employee.
“It cannot be that on the one hand the church takes huge strides forward on gender equality, yet on the other remains in the dark ages on fundamental employment rights.
"Mark has had to endure a dreadful, needless process, but Unite has been proud to back him every step of the way and will continue to do so. There is much at stake here, not only for Mark, but many other faith workers who are unable to seek justice for unfair treatment.
"It’s also important to bear in mind that the rules on access to tribunals have changed. Tribunal costs are now so high that they are beyond the reach of the average worker. Only if you are a union member, where your union picks up your legal costs, can you hope to have access to justice."
The background to the case rests on how Rev Sharpe, his wife and their four children endured a campaign of intimidation from parishioners when they moved to the rectory in remote Worcestershire in 2005 until they left in 2009.
Unite had argued Rev Sharpe was an employee when he sought redress for the loss of his job, however the Church of England contended that he was ‘an office holder’ and therefore not covered by current employment rights legislation.
For further information contact Douglas Beattie in the Unite Press Office on 020 3371 2065.
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1
Notes to editors
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.