When Cardinal Vincent Nichols gathers with business leaders for the third Blueprint for Better Business conference tomorrow, the words of Pope Francis this week on the workplace situation should be ringing in their ears.
He called for human dignity to be at the centre of society, and with it, solidarity, which he said means to think and act in terms of the community and to fight against the structural causes of poverty, inequality, unemployment, and loss of land, housing, and social and labour rights. “It is to confront the destructive effects of the ‘Empire of Money’."
In Britain there is unprecedented insecurity in the workplace, so although the economy is finally on the up again after the recession, the mass of workers earn less in real terms than they did five years ago.
A recent report published by Income Data Services found that the pay of the directors of the FTSE 100 had increased by 21 per cent in the last year, while average pay increases averaged only 2 per cent.
The much-lauded economic recovery and fall in unemployment has in the main been predicated on forcing more people into low-paid, insecure work.
There are now 1.4 million people on “zero-hours” contracts, where the employer isn’t obliged to require a certain number of hours’ work each week, and two in every five of the new jobs created in recent years have been devised as self-employed roles, ie not obliging an employer to pay tax or national insurance or offer sick leave or annual leave.
Then there has been the rise in the number of part-time workers, who now account for 8 million out of the 30 million workforce – half of the jobs created between 2010 and 2012.
“In-work poverty” has also been on the increase – over half of those defined as being in poverty come from working families.
Yet the cardinal is spending the day talking to business leaders. Among them are Sir Mike Rake, the President of the CBI, and various investment managers pondering the purpose of business.
Cardinal Nichols did recently refer to “working conditions existing today, in this city, which are not far from effective slavery, as well as the presence of extensive de facto slavery too.”
But he hasn’t mentioned this issue at the previous two Blueprint conferences.
Globally, many of the Church’s membership are caught up in this unjust distribution of wages and the common good is not being served by the present inequality. The Church in the UK has supported the concept of a living wage – a wage that will keep people above the poverty line. But much more is needed.
Some church recognition and support for trade unions, which have traditionally helped ensure a more equal distribution of wealth, would be welcome.
As Pope Francis says, more needs to be done to connect what is going on in the economy with the dignity of the human person.
Simply talking to the side that had a disproportionate role in creating the unjust situation in the first place just won’t do.