The end of September brings two things: The awakening of the singer from Green Day; and our monthly employment law update. Last month’s update had features on the Boris Johnson burqa scandal, outsourcing and an employee sacked for having a man bun. Meanwhile, last week’s case law update had cases on constructive dismissal and unfair dismissal.
A recurring feature of our newsletter recently has been the ability of high-ranking politicians to show complete disregard for common employment law practices. Well, this month we leave Westminster behind and instead focus on the head of the clergy.
Since being appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 2013, Justin Welby has used his position to champion socio-political causes to great effect. Like Pope Francis, Welby is known for his progressive views, concern for the poor.
Whilst Welby’s predecessors might not have been as articulate, many religious figures are notionally against anything that would lead to impoverishment. What the aforementioned Pope Francis and Archbishop Welby have in common, is their impassioned speeches and shareable soundbites.
Welby has staunchly criticised several modern-day causes of, and contributors to, poverty, including Wonga, tax avoidance, the Universal Credit roll out and austerity. So far, so good. You’d imagine he isn’t a fan of the gig economy and associated practices either?
Well, September saw Welby give a controversial speech at the TUC conference. During the speech, he attacked Amazon for paying almost nothing in tax and labeled zero-hours contracts a reincarnation of an ancient evil. Shortly afterward it emerged that the Church of England has shares in Amazon and at least two of its Cathedrals were advertising for zero-hours staff to fill vacant roles.
Now hypocrisy and irony are words that often banded about without being correctly contextualised. However, the hypocrisy in this statement is rather ironic. How could someone admonish Amazon and zero-hours contracts without checking their own house was in order first?
However, behind the irony and hypocrisy are two further points: The structure of the Church of England; and the Church’s reasons for being an Amazon shareholder.
Firstly, the Church of England is made up of nearly sixteen and a half thousand churches with a varying amount of staff at each church. Whilst the exact number of staff and how many are employed on zero-hours contracts are unknown, we do know that currently a night porter and refectory assistant are being advertised as zero-hours posts by the Cathedrals of Gloucester and Norwich respectively.
The structure of the Church of England means that whilst Welby is the head of the Church, each parish has autonomy to behave how it chooses and Welby’s views are guidelines, not mandates. By contrast, there are between 850,000 to 1,000,000 people working zero-hours roles nationwide.
So maybe having a few zero-hours staff isn’t so hypocritical after all. However, the reason for investing in Amazon is nowhere near as justified. A statement from the Church has said it invests in Amazon to create a dialogue at boardroom level and promote change from within.
If this was the case, why hasn’t this policy been mentioned before? How long has the Church been an investor and how much has zero-hours contract use decreased by in that time? In reality, Jeff Bezos and other Amazon bigwigs are unlikely to have an epiphany whilst looking at the profits they make as a result of registering the business in Luxembourg.
Having strong views on the gig economy is common. However, holding these as the head of an organisation that employs people on zero-hours contracts is somewhat hypocritical. Recently, the Church of England has also been noted as failing to pay the living wage, paying senior staff high bonuses and the Amazon/zero-hours affair hardly helps. The glass house has shattered due to a bombardment of stones.