The future of work – labour after Laudato Si’

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Written by: Fr. Pierre Martinot-Lagarde SJ,

The future of work – labour after Laudato Si’

The project presented here aims at addressing the challenges introduced by Laudato Si’ for the world of work, in the traditional approach of the social doctrine, one of collaboration, dialogue and constructive proposal based on significant principals : the dignity of all and everyone, the sense that peace will result from continuous commitment on social justice.

Laudato Si is and will be undoubtedly a landmark in the development of the social doctrine of the Church. Bringing reflexion on the environment, on the world we contributed to change, is not just adding an other dimension to a comprehensive social agenda. It is indeed a change in paradigm. This shall affect the various issues which have been traditionally addressed in this context: from peace, social justice and security, labour, governance and politics, family, migrations, to name just a few. It lays upon a comprehensive diagnosis of our current situation of globalisation. Despite its fragmentation, its burning issues, the world has entered a situation when all crisis are somehow inter connected: the ecological and environment crisis, the fragmentation of societies induced by long term and massive unemployment, lack of human and social security, continuous demographic increases paralleling important migrations, and probably a significant change in the industrial world led by the massive deployment of new technologies and artificial intelligence. At stake, or central to the question, is probably our fundamental understanding of our common humanity, as a set of humanizing relationships, with God, and one another.

Labour issues have always pivotal in the social doctrine of the Church. Rightly so. Labour, and more widely not just employment, but all forms of human activities, are potentially significant contributions to our human vocation, of cocreateurs, but also of servants, or care takers, of our nature and our common humanity. A conception of labour significantly grounded in anthropological premises shall inform the way we reflect on our economies, on our social solidarities, on our governance. At this stage, this should appear merely as an intuition, or a hypothesis, to be confirmed. In a sense, the project “the future of work – labour after laudato Si” is a broad experiment.

Challenges and opportunities

Challenges facing the world of work today are numerous at the global level. Let us just name a few : 1.5 billion workers are involved in precarious forms of work, with wages insufficient to raise a family, short terms contracts if not no contracts at all, not to mention the victims of trafficking, a big part of them being women, and children involved into child labour. 800 million workers are still living in poverty, under the threshold of 2 dollars a day. The globalisation that we have witnessed over the last forty years has paralleled a trend leading to greater inequalities, both between countries and within countries. Finally, it seems that we are entering what some would a call a fourth industrial revolution: the impact of robotisation, new technologies is probably the continuation and also an amplification of the previous phases of industrialisation and automation. The development, yet still uneven, of artificial intelligence in different sectors of the economy, from public to private services, in domains ranging from health to the automobile industry, may have drastic consequences on the way we shall understand human autonomy, initiative, and responsibilities in a world where interconnectivity and relations could become more intensive and invasive. Is this the future we want? Are these changes inevitable or is there a discernment to be conducted.

In face of these challenges, the opportunities that led to the development of this project will appear, rightly so, modest, fragile, and for some of them even fluid and volatiles. First, let us mention the Church context, both the publication of Laudato Si and the Vatican/Curia Reform. This context should be understood not just as the setting of new institutional opportunities, but as a provocation/invitation for renewal, including in the spiritual sense. In its full sense, Laudato Si is an invitation to rejuvenate the very meaning of relationships in the broad sense, with God, with others, with Nature. It could help us give a renewed purpose to our engagement and activities, re-examine the value of some of them. Beyond relationships, a discernment is to be conducted on our human activities, on their positive contributions to the preservation of nature, of families and communities.

Parallel to this, the Curia reform, and in particular the creation of the Dicastery for the promotion of integral human development is an invitation to reengage in a dialogue, with Christians, and beyond, with the understanding that the issues at stake will only be informed, if not illuminated, if we take the risk of sharing our views and perspectives, looking at possible common roads and engaging in them. We could have the tendency to become/remain the mere witness of a change that could be only the Pope’s business. Even if we are supportive of this changes in our minds and hearts, this spectator attitudes bears the risk of making us complice of the statu quo. Trust is the foundation of partnerships, and of common discernment.

In the meantime, the years to come mark the celebration of the centenary of the International Labour Organisation to be held in 1919. The relationships between the ILO and the Catholic Church has been strong since almost the foundation of the organisation. It involved in particular the Catholic Organisations focusing on labour, the Holy See (the Secretary of State) and the former Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, now Dicastery for the promotion of integral human development. Pope Paul VI came on an official visit for the celebration of the cinquantenary of the organisation and contributed to the reflexion on the future of the organisation with a landmark message reemphasizing some aspects of Popularum Progressio.

Today, the reflexion on the future of work invites the ILO to reconsider the role and the relationship between work and society. Other aspects include the urgent need to address youth unemployment as well as the political and ethical consequences of the fourth industrial revolution, including digitalisation.

Partnerships for a common discernment

Partnerships are the foundation for a common discernment process. In an important article published in revue Etudes, Fr Calvez once pointed a striking feature of the social doctrine of the Church as being elaborated in dialogue with relevant organisations and partners. This method is in particular developed by Jesuit social centres which are constantly reflecting on social issues by engaging with relevant actors of governments, civil society and the private sector. The same perspective was included in this project.

The first nucleus of partners which contributed to the design and now the implementation of the project was constituted of catholic inspired organisations which had engaged a particular relationship with the ILO, notably by attending the International labour Conference. This group includes International Catholic Migration Commission, Caritas Internationalism, UNIAPAC, the two organisation of young Christian Workers, as well as the rural young work    ers (MIJARC), Pax Romana, and its affiliates SIIAEC, Kolping International were among the most prominent members. Together they had been involved in some advocacy Rome, in dialogue already with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Soon, a group of Jesuit social centres and universities joined into the process. Indian Social Institute from India, CERAP from Abidjan, CERAS from Paris, Puebla University in Mexico just to name a few to start with. All brought this specific tradition and way of proceeding consisting in engaging dialogue on substantive issues with a wide range of partners.

Another important feature, naturally, was the invitation made to employers and workers organisations. UNIAPAC already mentioned is an important partner in this regards, but invitation had also been extended to others. As for the workers, their participation has been built on the experience of a first global seminar in Rome in which they had been specifically represented, coming from Brazil, Caribbean’s, Rumania, Italy, just to name a few.

Finally, following Pope Benedict’s intuition, confirmed now with Laudato Si, that interreligious dialogue should also be a space for reflexion and interaction on the common good, the dialogue also included the participation of religious organisations from different parts of the world, and traditions. This will be particularly expanded building on the possibilities offered by the project to engage consultation at national and regional levels.

Objectives of the project

At this stage, it is evidently too soon to share results, thus we should be confident that the overall objectives will describe what will be achieved. As general perspective, it would be fair to say, that the projects aims at giving the Church(es) a voice on labour objectives. This would of course be supported with some more concrete and operational objectives.

Synergies and networks

First building and supporting existing synergies and networks across Church institutions to enhance knowledge sharing and cooperation. In many places, actors have only few opportunities to come together, share experience and build on the evidence accumulated. In the current reform led by Pope Francis, regional and national bishops’ conference are positioned to play a key role, as convener and facilitator. The same would be of international movements, universities, social ethics centres and institutions.

Stimulating reflexion

Second, stimulating and reinforcing reflexion on existing and new challenges. At this stage we have identified six main areas of work:

The first, decent jobs and environment will be led by CERAS in Paris, and hopefully with the contribution of many others. They will be built on their expertise accumulated with their reflexion on the ecological transition.

The second track will be on decent jobs, social justice, inequalities and peace. It will be led by Puebla University which has a strong involvement in difficult urban settings where violence and unemployment have detrimental impact on the youth and families.

The third track relates to migration and demography. It will be led by ICMC which is strongly engaged with migrants and refugees on their transit. When many countries are closing their borders, others having difficulties to respect migrant’s rights and dignities, it will be important to place emphasis on long term views and perspectives, and also try to learn from migrants, about their lives, their journeys and their challenges.

The fourth track relates to the changes in the world of work. It will be led by the Lupina Foundation and a network of academics. It will develop opportunities for a common assessment of the impact of digitalization, robotisation, and artificial intelligence on the world of work. Today, it remains in particular difficult to assess the consequences of this revolutions on jobs creations and jobs losses

The fifth track, entrusted to Uniapac and Paul Dembinski at the University of Geneva, will build on their knowledge and involvement of enterprises to measure the changes among enterprises in their diversity, from the informal to the formal, from the small and medium size to the big ones, in various sectors of the economy. Enterprises are changing realities.

Finally, the sixth track is entrusted to Aggiornamenti Sociali which is already involved in the project undertaken with the Italian Bishops conference to assess the potentialities for social innovation and jobs creations of enterprises. The project will be internationalized with the view of identifying positive experience that could provide some directions on the changes that will happen to the world of work.

It is expected that this various tracks will converge and help support the drafting of relevant Church documents aiming at guiding Christian engagement in the world of work, first as a pastoral issues, second at an ethical level, and lastly at the political level.

Building capacities to engage in dialogue and advocacy on labour issues

The last objective aims at ensuring the sustainability of the project with a differentiated approach. The various groups and organisations involved have different approaches toward engagement in advocacy and public debate. Three general directions have been identified:

First addressing the needs of individuals engaged in social and labour issues for a discernment at their level of responsibility. This could take the form of training seminars, moocs, and training programs

Second addressing the needs of organisations to better position themselves in the public arena, relying better on their experiences and articulating proposal and discourses in relation with their assessment and in light of the social doctrine of the Church.

Last providing all with a knowledge platform capable to provide easy access to relevant documents, experiences, statements, and guidelines.