Writer and journalist Paul Donovan has called on the Catholic Church hierarchy to speak out for ordinary people struggling on low pay and poor conditions in the workplace. Donovan questioned how the hierarchy seem to value sanctity of life when it comes to the unborn child, the family and old age but somehow missed the link in between which is work. “Work takes up a huge amount of most people’s lives, which makes it all the more baffling that the Church has so little to say about it. The way people are treated at work has implications for family life across the country and the common good generally,” said Donovan.
Delivering the annual talk, titled “Dignity or Slavery – does work still work for the Common Good?” to the Salford J&P Assembly on Saturday, he outlined a scene that has seen the so called economic recovery being based on forcing people into insecure low paid work. He highlighted how there are now 1.4 million people struggling on zero hour contracts, while one million people have been forced from secure well paid jobs in the public sector into low paid insecure jobs in the private sector. Half the new jobs created since 2010 have come in the private sector.
Donovan condemned the growth of the number of people working but being paid so little that they receive benefits to make up the difference. He singled out the rise of 59% in those in work receiving housing benefit, with the cost to the tax payer going from £3.4 billion in 2010 to £5.1 billion. There are now more than one million people in work receiving housing benefit, where there were just 650,000 in 2010. “This rise has been because landlords have been free to push up rents but wages have been frozen or declined in the same period. A real case of welfare for the rich – in this case rack renting landlords,” said Donovan.
The journalist asked “where is the Catholic Church in all of this? Are there not some consequences for the common good from these developments?” Donovan suggested that the hierarchy of the Church seems more at home with the bosses in the boardrooms. He went onto question why church leaders like Cardinal Vincent Nichols have regular meetings with business leaders, contributing to things like the CBI’s “great business debate” and developing his own “blueprint for business,” yet ignore the trade unions who represent over 6 million working people.
“The Church’s social teachings on the world of work are very clear going right back to Rerum Novarum. The worker is alone in an unequal position against the employer, they need collective representation to counter the power inequality – this comes from trade unions,” said Donovan, who did credit the Church for its championing of the living wage. “The living wage campaign shows what can be done when people act together as Church for a real social justice goal.” He called for the Church hierarchy to open up a dialogue with the trade union movement in the same way as it has with business.