Government plans could bring clergy under state employment law

 The government is currently drawing up proposals which could bring clergy under the same employment law as other workers. A Department of Trade and Industry consultation paper due to be published later this month, is considering giving clergy protection against unfair dismissal. Currently all clergy are defined as 'office holders' and dealt with internally by their religious organisations. Those who feel they have been wrongly dismissed have no state legal rights to appeal. The new ruling would affect more than 20,000 clergy in the UK including Anglicans, Catholics, Rabbis and Imams. The ruling could have another of ramifications - and might be used for example by women in the Anglican church Representatives of the main faiths in Britain met government officials recently, to discuss the proposals. A Catholic Church spokesman who attended the meeting said yesterday: "The government undertook some time ago to review Section 23 of the 1993 Employment Relations Act with regard to the categorisation of workers, including clergy, who fall outside the act's definition of 'employees'. That is what it is now doing. The consultation process will lead to a discussion document. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, clergy are provided under Canon Law, with the same sort of protection afforded under the Act to employees in the labour market." Fr Sean Middleton, spokesman for the National Conference of Priests said: "Any legislation that affords justice and peace in the workplace is to be lauded. I am sure the National Conference of Priests would be willing to participate in any consultation process on this issue."

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