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Curb worker exploitation, says Christian think tank

19 July 2021


CHANGES to working practices, such as longer hours and employee surveillance, are “dehumanising” and should be addressed urgently, a new report published by the think tank Theos warns.

The report, Just Work: Humanising the labour market in a changing world, by Paul Bickley and Barbara Ridpath, was published on Monday. Its recommendations include investors using their financial muscle to demand that employers treat their staff well, the creation of more bank holidays, and a “technology fast” for employees once a week.

The report says that people are spending more hours than ever before at their desks or responding to work email, and that employees are increasingly expected to work unpaid overtime. The Covid-19 pandemic “has intensified and accelerated” a culture of non-stop work that is dehumanising and unsustainable, it argues, and this is likely to worsen as automation puts further pressure on the jobs market.

The report refers to a poll that it commissioned YouGov to carry out of 3182 adults YouGov in January. Only 16 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “I feel that in work I’m doing things that are really meaningful”; and ten per cent agreed that: “I believe my current work is part of my calling and vocation”. Forty-five per cent said that they would train for a different career if they had the opportunity.

Responsible investors should examine working practices before putting money into businesses, the report suggests, highlighting the positive examples set by Christian companies such as Clean For Good (News, 18 June).

The report also notes the problem of unpaid overtime, and argues that re-establishing the principle of paid overtime would “force employers to think about the amount of work required, and whether a particular task is resourced correctly”.

The Government should also act, the report says, noting that the UK has fewer shared rest days than comparable economies. It suggests that one way to encourage a culture of rest and relaxation would be to increase the number of bank holidays.

Besides calling on the Government and employers to take action, the report encourages workers to think about how they interact with ideas of work and productivity, including a “technology fast” one day a week.

“As individuals, we need to first consider the place of work in our lives, and how to de-emphasise its importance in order to make room for other ways of finding meaning, purpose, and fulfilment — whether those are in other meaningful ‘works’ or in leisure,” it says.

But it goes on to argue that “individual decision or will” is not sufficient to change how people behave, and it calls on the Government to act to limit the number of hours that people work.

The report also calls on society to recover the Sabbath. “The biblical idea of a Sabbath is an ancient answer to a very modern anxiety,” it says. “If we could recover it, or find new shared practices of rest, we would help tackle overwork of people and exploitation of our natural environment.”

Although some countries, notably Germany, still prohibit working on Sundays, in the UK, more than half the working adults work at the weekend, at least occasionally.

A day of rest “demonstrates for all of us that we are not defined by what we do or what we consume”, the report argues.

Although the report stops short of calling for a return to “strict Sunday observance”, including shop closures, it recommends that people should be encouraged to take more rest, and that employers should “humanise” workplaces by ensuring that people are paid living wages, and by investing in pastoral care, such as workplace chaplaincies.

Read the report here

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