PRESCRIPT: I was recently asked by a group of staff employed at the Uniting Church in Australia’s Victoria/Tasmania Synod office to present a talk on industrial issues as they relate to faith based workers. This invitation was extended to me because it was known that before candidating to the ordained ministry, I had been involved in the Australian Trade Union movement for many years. As the starting point for my presentation, I drew on Matthew 20: 1-16 (the parable of the Vinyard owner and the labourers). What follows is my reflection upon that passage.
When I first came to work in the trade union movement, I was quickly made aware of a saying: the two worst employers to work for are unions and churches. Being full of ideological zeal, I initially dismissed this suggestion; but after a while, I began to see why it might have some truth to it. As a union official, I worked enormous amounts of unpaid overtime, often making myself available to union members well before and well after normal business hours. Moreover, I did so with a minimum of support, in a highly pressurised environment, in which I was acutely conscious of the fact that I was not only dealing with other peoples’ lives, but also the necessity of complying with a raft of legal obligations and restrictions, violation of which could have had catastrophic consequences for the union by whom I was employed. And just to make things worse, I had to do this in the highly politicised environment of the union movement itself, in which elected officials’ tendency toward paranoia meant that you had to be very careful about what you said, when, and to whom you said it. As a paid official, the worst thing I could do was make some elected official think I was after their job, or part of a rival faction that wanted them out of office. Continue reading “The Church as Employer: A Reflection”