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Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Opinion: world of work should be prioritised by the Church
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¬†Work is something that most of us spent a large amount of our lives doing. Most people have to work in order to live. Family life cannot happen without at least one income coming into the home, and increasingly these days two are required to make ends meet. Given that work is so fundamental to human life it seems strange that it has been so downgraded over recent years as a Church priority. There used to be a committee of the Bishops Conference for England and Wales on the World of Work and Public Life chaired by Bishop John Dukes. The worker servicing the committee was Theresa Byrne. The committee liaised with the Department of Trade and Industry on issues like employment law and health and safety regulations. It also worked with the Trades Union Congress and Confederation of British Industry on matters of concern. There was an active process going on whereby those in the Church took part and were kept informed about what was happening regarding work related matters. This committee disappeared as the Bishops Conference switched its priority to family life leading onto the Listening 2004 process. The creation of Caritas Social Action, which was no doubt expected to pick up some of the work responsibilities, was another background factor in the decision. Funding was also cut around about this time to the Young Christian Workers. The decision to downgrade work seems all the stranger given the priority it has been given in Catholic Social Teaching. In 1981, on the 90th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's ground breaking encyclical on human work Rerum Novarum, Pope John Paul II emphasised the central importance of work to life. "Work is one of these aspects, a perennial and fundamental one, one that is always relevant and constantly demands renewed attention and decisive witness," wrote Pope John Paul II,in his encyclical Laborem Exercems (1981). A further example of the emphasis that Catholic Social teaching puts on work issues was evident in the Bishop's Conference's own document the Common Good (1996) This stressed the dangers of labour market inequalities and stressed that where possible "Catholics should join an appropriate trade union." So there is a rich tradition in Catholic Social teaching on work related issues. It is also difficult to understand how topics like the family can be seriously tackled without taking on the work dimension. Work is so fundamental to a healthy family life. The recent living wage campaign launched by the faith based The East London Communities Organisation grew out of Catholic parishes feeding back that family life was suffering because parents were having to do two or three low paid jobs in order to try and make ends meet. People were so busy trying to put bread on the table that they certainly had no spare time to put into parish life. The Living Wage campaign was one of the best recent examples of Catholic Social teaching being put into practice. It had wide implications, bringing Catholic schools and Churches out onto the streets to protest for a living wage. Those schools and churches in some cases also had to put their own houses in order by ensuring that they paid a living wage themselves. Some also took outsourced cleaning work back in house as a result. The campaign was successful with Barclays Bank, HSBC Bank, hospital trusts and the London Mayor all taking up the call to pay a minimum living wage of £6.70 an hour. This was a successful campaign putting Catholic social teachings into action and really improving the family life of Catholics and the wider community as a result. At another level in the world of work employers have established the Employers Faith Forum which is always looking for faith input. Indeed, at a time when government and business are keen to hear from faith groups in many different parts of life it seems incredible that there is not informed voice to speak from the Catholic Church. Surely, the time has come to re-examine how the Church reflects the world of work both internally and to the wider community. The living wage campaign proves how important the laity regard the issue. Church social teaching clearly establishes a duty to make witness in this area and in order to do so the expertise needs to be gathered and a coherent voice put forward. Our Church has a wealth of experience in the world of work so lets start sharing it again with the wider world.
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