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Protecting the dignity of work

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

The Dignity of Work is the theme for the 2019 Justice, Peace and Community Week, October 19–26. See the calendar of events and prayer supplement in next week’s Catholic News.

In T&T, many have lost their jobs or are underemployed. Many graduates and young people are unable to find gainful employment. This year’s theme aims to facilitate a conversation about the challenges we face. Is our society only concerned with profit/the bottom line?

In Genesis, God mandated that man and woman should work/cultivate and care for the earth. Climate change clearly shows that we are failing to do so. We can’t talk about ‘work’ without considering how climate change is already adversely impacting billions of people e.g. health, homes, food, work.

Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum was a major document that addressed the miserable working conditions of the working class.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church reminds us that: “The person is the yardstick of the dignity of work…Work is for man and not man for work…Any form of materialism or economic tenet that tries to reduce the worker to being a mere instrument of production, a simple labour force with an exclusively material value, would end up hopelessly distorting the essence of work and stripping it of its most noble and basic human finality.”

The US bishops echoed this sentiment: “The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to humane working conditions, to form and join trade unions, to reasonable limitation of working hours, to private property, and to economic initiative.”

Good work promotes the dignity of the human person as opposed to e.g. domestic servitude, human/sex trafficking, modern-day slavery, forced labour, sexual harassment in the workplace—all which trample on human dignity.

In Laudato Si’ (2015) Pope Francis said: “We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replaces human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment…As St Basil the Great said: ‘Work honours the gifts and talents that God has given to each one of us’.”

Remember to develop a work/life balance—alternating work “with times of rest or celebration and, especially time for prayer.”

In 2017, he told us: “…work is fundamental to the dignity of a person created in the image of God…work is sacred…it gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, and to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation…There is no worse material poverty … than the poverty which prevents people from earning their bread and deprives them of the dignity of work.”

Is work in T&T contributing to the common good? Are we preparing citizens for the 21st century workplace?

Stephane Kasriel, Upwork CEO, reminds us that “…too often, degrees are still thought of as lifelong stamps of professional competency. They tend to create a false sense of security, perpetuating the illusion that work — and the knowledge it requires — is static. It’s not…For example, a 2016 World Economic Forum report found that ‘in many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations or specialties did not exist 10 or even five years ago, and the pace of change is set to accelerate.’

“And recent data from Upwork confirms that acceleration. Its latest Upwork Quarterly Skills Index, released in July 2018, found that ‘70 percent of the fastest-growing skills are new to the index.’ Expect the change to keep coming. The World Economic Forum cites one estimate finding that 65 per cent of children entering primary school will end up in jobs that don’t yet exist. The result is a proliferation of new, nontraditional education options…

“The future of work won’t be about degrees. More and more, it’ll be about skills. And no one school… can ever insulate us from the unpredictability of technological progression and disruption…Freelancers, the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, realize more than most that education doesn’t stop. It’s a lifelong process, and they are nearly twice as likely to reskill.”

Let’s address these and other issues as we consider The Dignity of Work.

“Consequently, if the organization and structure of economic life be such that the human dignity of workers is compromised, or their sense of responsibility is weakened, or their freedom of action is removed, then we judge such an economic order to be unjust…”

Pope St John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, para 83

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee