Staff member ‘burst into tears’ over uncertainty about job

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By Martin Graham

A CHURCH of Scotland boss told an employment tribunal today how a member of staff had had ‘burst into tears’ because she was so upset about the risk of losing her job.

Patricia Johnston at the tribunal

Kenneth Ross was giving evidence at the tribunal raised by Patricia Johnston, 57, from Sauchie, Alloa, who is is claiming unfair dismissal from her post as China Field Officer with the Church’s World Mission international division, a post she had held since 2000.

Mr Ross was head of the World Mission department which underwent a re-structuring process in 2005.

The post held by Ms Johnston was funded by the church but had its role defined by a group called the Scottish China Churches Group, a coalition of religious groups operating in China.

Speaking about his working relationship with Ms Johnston, Mr Ross said: “We had a very cordial relationship, we shared the same ideals and vision for work in China.

“I was Patricia’s line manager until 2005, it was after I stopped being her line manager that we became less close, the relationship became more strained.

“It was after 2005 that Patricia began to report to the SCCG.

“The SCCG grew out of a long standing involvement of churches ïn China, back to missionary work in the 1870s.

“There was a hiatus after the communist revolution in 1949, but from the 1980s things started to open up and contacts were re-established by various churches.”

Mr Ross described the church’s attitude towards the SCCG and the role of China Field Officer.

He said: “At first there was an attitude of adventure, but it became clear that there were anomalies and risks which the church could not continue with.

“Due to financial constraints we had to move from supporting a core of eight countries to having one member of staff for Asian territories and one for African and Çarribean countries.”

When asked about the delay in making a decision about the future of Ms Johnston’s post, Mr Ross said: “We resolved to tell her as soon as the decision was made.

“We were in the meeting where the decision was being made, and went straight to a meeting with Ms Johnston and her union representatives to explain that her role was being made redundant.

“She was nervous and anxious, but she remained professional and acknowledged she had understood.

“Her last day of work was set for 26 March 2009.

“She took up the option of appealing against the decision.”

Mr Ross said that the church decided that the post had to change and that they discussed alternatives with CSSG starting in 2007, but that Patricia Johnston could not attend these meetings as her post was being discussed.

Discussions dragged on and Ms Johnston was finally told her role was being made redundant in February 2009.

She appealed the decision and the appeal panel found that the church had not followed its own redundancy procedures.

Ms Johnston applied for another international post with the church, but was not successful.

The tribunal continues.

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