European Catholics discuss future of work

By Kevin Flanagan, Director, St Antony’s Centre for Church and Industry, Manchester (CSAN member charity)

I was pleased to attend a meeting in 2018 of the Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (Comece), as a representative for England and Wales. There are several committees, of which the Social Affairs Commission is important in relation to the work of many of CSAN’s members. My main participation on the Commission was to represent the situation in England and Wales, in their discussions on the ‘Future of Work’. I participated in three Commission meetings and, together with Bishop William Kenney (Auxiliary in Birmingham), the launch conference for their report on The Future of Work which took place at the end of November 2018.

The primary purpose of the report was to put before the Commission and other partners a vision for decent, sustainable and a participatory world of work, that serves the common good and reflects the dignity and value of each person. This discussion is vital given the significant changes taking place globally: automation, more precarious work and the need to be alert to the impact that work is having on individuals, families, societies and global resources. There have been many reports that some sectors of the economy and communities will be increasingly impacted due to not having the ability to compete within the new forms of economy that are demanding high levels of skills. Within Europe, the percentage of those in work who are at risk of poverty is estimated to have increased by 2%, to 9.6%, over the 10 years to 2017. I was delighted to give evidence from my Trade Union work, the work of St Antony’s Centre for Church and Industry, and my knowledge of CSAN’s members.

The Commission also discussed the challenges facing young people. For example, youth unemployment had in some countries (for example Spain, Greece, Italy and Croatia) grown to around 30-40%, while the EU as a whole had record employment levels of 239m people in work. An expert from the Spanish Bishops’ Conference highlighted the need for vocational training and good school-to-work transition.

The opportunity to be part of these discussions dovetailed well with our engagement at St Antony’s Centre with EZA (the European Centre for Workers’ Questions) and GEPO (the European Workers’ Pastoral Group), both of which held conferences in Manchester last year.

Readers may be interested to know that Comece has published other relevant documents including, ‘Robotisation of Life: Ethics in View of New Challenges’ and a ‘Contribution to the consultation on “challenges of work-life balance faced by working parents and caregivers”’.