All the World's Religions Agree on the Dignity of Work

AN INTERESTING AND IMPORTANT NEW BOOK
A short review by Fr Kevin J. Barr


A book born out of a collaborative dialogue of the ILO with the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation as well as other organisations representing Judaism and Buddhism.

There are common threads running through all of these religious traditions on such issues as human dignity, solidarity and above all on the connection between work, social justice and the search for peace.
 

Only a few weeks ago a very interesting and important book was published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva. It was called Convergences: Decent Work and Social Justice in Religious Traditions – a Handbook.

The book is written against the background of globalisation and the current worldwide economic crisis. It states that, over the past few decades the world has experienced an upheaval from the process called globalisation from which some have benefitted but too many have not. Currently there is a backlash and, particularly following the recent financial crisis, more and more people are feeling angry, frustrated and left out. Human dignity seems to count for little. Moreover it appears that globalisation lacks an ethical foundation.

The ILO’s constitution states: “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice”. It acknowledges that peace is not simply a matter of preventing war but rather a matter of preserving human dignity and fighting against poverty and inequality in society. As the Director General of ILO, Juan Somavia, says in his Foreword to the book:

“The ILO was born out of real life struggles for equity centred on the workplace as the heartbeat of the economy and society. In work, issues of human dignity, the welfare and stability of families, communities and societies mesh with the productive system.”

The downside of globalisation is commonly experienced in the world of work - through poor wages and working conditions, unemployment, underemployment, child labour, sweat factories, little social protection and restrictions placed on workers unions. There is a need to promote decent work and to bring human values to bear on labour policies. Spirituality and values are essential in the quest for making globalisation more fair and more just.

The book is born out of a collaborative dialogue of the ILO with the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation as well as other organisations representing Judaism and Buddhism. The handbook shows that in the different religious traditions there is a great convergence of values on the subject of work. There are common threads running through all of these religious traditions on such issues as human dignity, solidarity and above all on the connection between work, social justice and the search for peace.

Each section of the book looks at what the various religious traditions have to say about issues such as the meaning of work, human dignity, solidarity and security, social justice, decent work, social protection, social dialogue, rights of workers (including the right to form unions and to collective bargaining), child labour, and discrimination in the workplace. Documents and teachings from the great religious traditions are quoted which show that there is a great consensus (or convergence) on all these important issues affecting labour.

The book is very timely and should be in the hands of government ministers and officials, employer’s and worker’s representatives as well as heads of religious organisations.

While governments have often had a close and cosy relationship with investors and the business sector because they consider them the “engine” of economic growth, it seems that many have forgotten that the workers of the nation represent the “heartbeat” of the economy and the nation. Without a proper recognition of the place and the rights of workers and a determined search for social justice there will be no lasting peace. We all need to remember the slogan: “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice”. The economic system behind globalisation needs to be based on a strong ethical foundation.

The text of the handbook is readily available on the ILO Website: www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/pardev/civil/convergences.htm

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