Work is God’s gift to humanity. It makes us who we are. We are continuing in the footsteps of God when we work, building on the foundations made by God in creation. Each individual person can, and should, use their God given gifts to make the world a better place. Each person has the right to dignified work and the benefits of working such as sick leave, maternity/paternity pay, adequate health care, retirement funds and the right to join a union. Employers have a responsibility to their workers, to treat them with respect, pay them fair wages and ensure they have clean and safe working conditions.
Because work is in fact a gift, we need to recognise that work exists for people, people don’t exist for work. This can sometimes be forgotten when places of work are driven by profit, and don’t look after the dignity of their workers. Zero hour contracts, poor health and safety and unjust working hours, all undermine the rights of the individual and need to be challenged.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis highlights an issue that could become more of a problem in the future: technological advances. The mechanisation of production means that less and less people are needed for work, leading to more and more people becoming unemployed. Pope Francis says that ‘‘the goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replaces human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity.’’ Individuals have the right to be able to work in order to lead a sustainable and dignified life. For those who are unable to work because of issues like economic downturns, war, staff redundancies or their jobs being replaced by machines , financial help must be given; however we should always strive to allow individuals a dignified life through work.
Our day to day lives are impacted by the work of others. Similarly, our lives and choices can affect the working conditions of others. Everyone has a responsibility to think about the products they buy and whether the workers producing the items have been treated fairly in their places of work.
Growing cocoa beans is a hard job! The cocoa bean crop is very sensitive, needing to be protected from outside forces like too much sun, damaging insects, winds and disease. This means that the crops need a lot of time and energy from farmers to look after them, and for them to be good enough to sell. Sadly, the price that farmers receive for cocoa has halved since the 1980’s, despite profits for the multi national chocolate companies increasing rapidly since this time. Often cocoa farmers receive just 6% of all the profits of chocolate sales, where as companies can receive up to 70%!
In the UK some sports retailers have been in the media recently for the way they treat their employees. They have been accused of putting their profits before the safety and well being of the staff they employ. Allegations of workers being docked pay for being 1 minute late, fearful of taking sick leave, and being offered only zero hour contracts show that staff are not being treated as dignified workers. One report from an MP on a leading sports retailer claim that in some companies staff are not treated as humans.
2.7 million people in Britain are employed in the retail industry. However increasingly shops are opting for self service checkouts which require less workers. The Office for National Statistics estimates that if shops carry on cutting jobs because of technological advancements around 135 million cashier jobs will be lost, meaning that two thirds of cashiers are in danger of redundancies. This means that more people will be forced to find other jobs, or will not be able to provide for themselves through sustainable work.
What can you do?
- Lobby local and national businesses to stop zero hour contracts.
- Think more about where you buy clothes and food. Are those who produce the items you buy getting fair wages and working conditions? Can you buy items that are more fairly produced and traded?
- Have a look at the health and safety procedures at work places near you, are the workers adequately protected from the dangers of work?
- Treat workers you encounter with respect. Whether or not you are having a bad day, the person at work is using their God given gifts-treat them with the dignity and respect each person deserves.
- Support those who cannot work, recognise their value.
- Get some ideas for action from our CST page on supporting students and workers, being sure you pledge your action here.