Clergy to benefit from centralised pay and social security system

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has launched a centralised pay and social security system for its clergy. The purpose of implementing the centralised system is to ensure ongoing spiritual care for all of the church’s congregations through the development of quality services and competitive salaries among members of the clergy. As a result, the new system will ensure fairer salaries among the clergy and will lead to better social dialogue.

Background

The spiritual care network of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas Evaņģēliski luteriskās baznīcas, LELB) covers the entire country. More than 300 Lutheran congregations are currently active in Latvia. The church ensures that each congregation is served by an ordained pastor.

The highest decision-making body of LELB is the Latvian Synod and the Council of Deans. The LELB Consistory is the executive body, which exercises the joint functions of the church.

Inequality of existing salary system

Employment relations at LELB are established in compliance with the Republic of Latvia Labour Law. Up to now, pastors and other paid employees working for the benefit of the congregation were hired on a contractual basis by the congregation, while the employees in management roles were recruited by the Consistory. Pastors and other employees were paid from proceeds collected from the congregations. The size of congregations and their church’s income varied proportionately to the population density. Therefore, pastors’ salaries were higher in some churches than in others.

Pastor salaries to improve

In order to ensure continued and quality spiritual care for all LELB congregations and to prevent inequality regarding pay levels, LELB had already started in 1999 to develop a centralised pay and social security system for members of the clergy. The decision to implement the new system was passed by the 23rd Synod in 2007. In June 2008, the 24th Synod decided to launch the centralised LELB pastor remuneration programme in July 2008.

After the implementation of the system, pastors will be employed by the LELB Consistory rather than by each individual church congregation. The system will be funded by the contributions made by each congregation to the Consistory and by income received from external use of church facilities. Pastors’ salaries will be determined according to the principle of receiving an equal salary for equal work. Determining the scope of work will be made easier by the pastor service location plan; on the one hand, this will ensure availability of spiritual care to any person living in Latvia who requires it and, on the other hand, it will provide for equal workloads and competitive salaries for pastors.

Church to establish social dialogue

LELB is currently feeling the need for social dialogue, as formal social dialogue institutions and processes do not exist in this area of activity at present. Individually-resolved employment relations are based on the authority of higher level members of the clergy. However, this process is sometimes insufficient, as the shortcomings of the former salary system have shown.

In terms of employment relations, the clergy should enjoy the rights defined by Latvian labour legislation, such as the right to an equal salary for equal work. Thus far, equality could not be achieved with regard to salaries. This is mainly because the congregation was effectively the only negotiation partner for members of the clergy, but was limited by its income. Despite the significant property assets of the church, the very low salaries still deterred pastors from taking up positions. Furthermore, a disparity emerged between the division of duties and responsibility among the employers, because the LELB central administration ordained pastors to work at well-established churches but could not ensure a salary equalling the level of ordination.

Commentary

It is possible that LELB will never achieve collective bargaining in its classic form. Nevertheless, the very fact that LELB has established this new pay and social security system shows that the church is exploiting the social dialogue principles in its own unusual manner. The centralised salary system for the clergy is not mandatory and each congregation can join it voluntarily. In order to convince congregations of the new system’s advantages, the latter are being explained and discussed at meetings of the congregations and members of the clergy. At the same time, the system’s provisions and an explanation of how it works have been published in the LELB newspaper, thus providing for greater transparency in relation to the system. So far, an agreement to join the centralised system has been reached with 296 Lutheran congregations. Negotiations are still ongoing with regard to a further 24 congregations.

Raita Karnite, Institute of Economics, Latvian Academy of Sciences

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