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World News

Christian student ministry UCCF apologises as report reveals wrongdoing

by Heather Preston

The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) has released the results of a 10-month investigation into alleged breaches of employment law and sexual discrimination.

50 individuals contributed to the investigation, with both positive and negative personal experiences of their time at the charity.

Some of the complaints received were upheld, while others were dismissed.  Termination procedures within the organisation were found to be lacking, but the charity was not found to have discriminated against its female staff.

The report, undertaken by Hilary Winstone of Old Square Chambers, found that UCCF had badly handled the termination of some staff contracts and been potentially unlawful at times.

Christian writer and former UCCF employee Tanya Marlow tells Premier it was a “typical pattern” for workers to be expected to leave the company after a few years of employment.  She claimed, “After two years you have the rights of a permanent employee, and you're not actually on a contract. So, the expectation of leaving after that set amount of time was illegal.” 

UK law regarding fixed-term contracts states that anyone who’s worked continually for one employer for 2 years or more has "the same redundancy rights as a permanent employee". If an employee continues working past the end of a contract without it being formally renewed, there’s an ‘implied agreement’ by the employer that the end date has changed, and the employer still needs to give proper notice if they want to dismiss the worker.

UCCF, which works with and supports student Christian Union groups in universities and colleges across Great Britain, says there was a consistent practice at the organisation for Christian Union Staff Workers (CUSW) to leave their employment after three years, “with some staying on for four or five years”.

In a statement, the organisation said: "The Trustees and Directors apologise unreservedly to those employees whose experiences fell short of what they were entitled to expect from UCCF, and for the hurt caused. We recognise that, as Christians, we need to honour our calling to work at the highest standard."

Tanya Marlow told Premier that the poor handling of termination contracts described in the report suggests a “toxic” environment, where people were “being forced out of a job”.

The charity's statement continued: "We are committed to ensuring that our policies and practices are lawful, fairly applied to all staff, and to fostering a Christ-like culture in which staff are not only valued but know they are valued, and where they can have the confidence to openly share any concerns they may have."

Further claims regarding the discrimination of women in the charity’s employment and ministry practises were also considered as part of the investigation, but were not upheld.

Hilary Winstone found there had been a “significant improvement” at UCCF in recent years, in the support given to female staff through pregnancy and maternity leave.

As a result of the findings, two directors who were suspended at the launch of the investigation in December 2022, have been re-instated. National Director Richard Cunningham and Field Director Tim Rudge are expected to “make a phased return to active duties as soon as possible.”

However, the report's publication comes shortly after five trustee board members stepped down within a three-week period. John Stevens, Abigail Joy Marthinet-Glover, Stephen John Rigby, Glynn Leslie Harrison and Jenny Charteris all terminated their appointments between 11th September and 3rd October 2023.

Marlow says these resignations put organisation’s credibility into question: “It does indicate that this is not a unanimous decision by the board and I think that raises loads of questions about where UCCF go from here and whether they can get back the trust from their supporters and their staff.”

In her report Winstone gave recommendations to UCCF: "Appoint a Human Resources director, continue to develop transparent and beneficial employment practices for staff and improve all staff and management training for best practice."

In the light of the investigation, the Trust Board says it will also be undertaking a review of its governance structures.

UCCF said: “As we seek to begin this new season from the right foundation and united, there is a renewed, shared commitment between UCCF senior staff and the Trust Board to work cooperatively and within a model of governance best practice.

“We are committed to taking all necessary steps to ensure that issues identified by the investigation and internal processes are comprehensively addressed and past shortcomings are not repeated.”

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