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Work for All : 14 September 2001

Work for All: Why and How in a World of Rapid Change by Sean Healy and Brigid Reynolds

September 14, 2001

CORI Justice Commission issued a statement highlighting some key points of relevance to Ireland contained in a paper on Work for All: Why and How in a Rapidly Changing World. This paper was presented on September 13th, by Fr Sean Healy S.M.A. and Sr Brigid Reynolds, S.M., Directors of CORI Justice Office, at a conference to mark the 20th anniversary of the Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens (On Human Work). The conference was held in the Vatican and was organised by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and five universities in Italy, Belgium Spain and the United States of America.

The main points in the statement are:

  • Everyone has the right to meaningful work and to have sufficient income to live life with human dignity.
  • The dominant paradigm in our world today is failing to ensure that everyone has access to meaningful work and sufficient income. Consequently it must be challenged and alternatives sought that can deliver these basics for everyone.
  • An alternative paradigm needs to broaden the understanding of work to include a wide range of work that is not paid employment. It also needs to develop an income distribution system that improves substantially on the present model that has failed consistently to eliminate income poverty.
  • The often-repeated mantra of Government ministers and other commentators that a job is the solution to poverty does not stand up to scrutiny.
  • A job alone is no guarantee that a person's income is sufficient to take him/her out of poverty. Other policies, particularly in the area of income distribution, must be developed alongside job-creation if all those with a job are to be removed from poverty".
  • The paper presented by Fr Sean Healy and Sr Brigid Reynolds outlines some major challenges faced by both society and the Catholic Church at the start of a new century. Principal among these are the challenges of ensuring that all people had access to meaningful work and sufficient income to live life with human dignity.
  • In 1936 the famous economist John Maynard Keynes stated "the outstanding faults of the economic society in which we live are its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes." Despite a further sixty-five years of effort societies across the world are faced with the same failures today.
  • Societies need to acknowledge their failures and face the challenge of finding more effective approaches towards ensuring everyone has access to meaningful work and has sufficient income to live with human dignity.
  • The failure to tackle income poverty is one of the great failures of modern societies.
  • Taking Ireland as an example the substantial increase in the number of jobs available in the Irish economy and the major reduction in the unemployment rate are most welcome. However, while Government acknowledges that there is still some way to go to ensure everyone can access meaningful work, it fails to recognise that there are substantial numbers of people still living in income poverty.
  • Many jobs are low-paid and do not provide sufficient income to ensure people can live life with basic dignity.
  • It is interesting in this context to note the anomalous situation whereby those with the lowest paid jobs do not benefit from tax reductions in the Budget because they are already outside the tax net.
  • Addressing the question of how societies could ensure that everyone has sufficient income to live life with human dignity consideration should be given to the development of appropriate Basic Income systems. Such an approach would be work and employment friendly, would be efficient in labour-market terms and would treat men and women equally. It would also eliminate poverty traps and unemployment traps and could ensure that everyone would receive at least the poverty level of income. Such an approach would also face up to the changes in the global economy.
  • The Irish Government's commitment to produce a Green Paper on Basic Income is most welcome. This Green Paper should be published before the end of 2001.
  • Focusing on the challenges this situation poses to the Catholic Church the importance Catholic Social Teaching attached to people having meaningful work and sufficient income to live life with dignity needs to be strongly emphasised. However, the Church must not be confined to rhetoric. It must be prepared to provide coherent analysis and possible concrete ways forward. These should not be presented as the answer but rather as contributions to the ongoing comprehensive debate involving all relevant actors. This debate is required in all societies if these issues are to be given the priority they deserve and if they are to be tackled effectively.

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