Quakers in Britain clarify position on new working contracts

By agency reporter
January 12, 2015

Quakers in Britain have responded to criticisms about their employment practices with a full comment on new working contracts.

The statement was issued by Paul Parker, the Recording Clerk for the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), their most senior staff post.

He said: "Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (BYM) is a national church and charity employing around 150 people, including 50 who work for Friends House Hospitality, a wholly-owned trading subsidiary. All the directors of the company are Quakers, as are all the trustees for BYM, the ultimate employers.

"BYM is a Living Wage Employer, and is recognised by the Equality Trust for the strict 1:4 ratio between lowest and highest paid staff. Our lowest wage band starts at 19 per cent above the London Living Wage. All staff receive generous benefits, including eight per cent employer pension contribution, subsidised meals, permanent health insurance, childcare vouchers, a cycle-to-work scheme and access to a free confidential employee assistance programme.

"From 2010 to 2014, BYM employed a small number (fewer than 10) staff on zero-hours contracts in a number of departments. These staff received a package of benefits comparable to that enjoyed by all other staff. The zero-hours contract had been introduced to benefit staff previously employed on a casual basis. Following a recent review, and with the full support of the Unite union representing Friends House staff, BYM has ceased using zero-hours contracts in favour of posts guaranteeing fixed hours of work.

"Five such substantive positions were advertised during 2014. Colleagues previously on zero-hours contracts were invited to apply for these; some chose not to respond, whilst others have applied and have been appointed. In October 2014, the contracts of three staff who had not been offered work at Friends House for some months were brought to an end, in line with BYM’s employment policy and usual practice with such contracts. In all of this, BYM has sought to treat its current and former employees fairly, compassionately and with the dignity which it believes each human being is entitled to expect.

"One of the staff concerned was subject to an investigation relating to working relationships with other members of BYM staff; the investigation concluded that this individual could not be considered for employment at BYM in the future. The member of staff was suspended for a period during this investigation; this was on a paid basis, although there was no obligation for us to do so. There is no basis for any claim that this investigation related to union activity.

"BYM has robust policies and procedures in place under which staff can raise concerns or grievances; new staff are encouraged to join the Unite union, with which BYM has a formal recognition agreement. There have been comprehensive negotiations with the union over a long period, which have helped us to reach the decisions taken."

Responding to criticisms, Parker added: "We are saddened that some individuals not connected with this organisation, nor with the Unite union, are distributing inaccurate and unattributed information about a management decision arrived at after proper notice and full consultation. BYM remains committed to being an ethical employer which strives to sustain a positive relationship with all our staff."

However, while only one of the three involved is a Quaker, the other two emphasise that they are not criticising Quakers as a whole but the management of Friends House and of Friends House Hospitality in particular.

Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends. Around 23,000 people attend 478 Quaker meetings in Britain. Their "commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change," they state.

* For the perspective of those who dissent from the Recording Clerk's analysis, see 'Quaker headquarters under pressure over treatment of junior staff': http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21300

* Quakers in Britain: http://www.quaker.org.uk

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