Later in this Synod we will focus on the work of clergy and those in ministry and those who work in and for the Diocese as employees and as volunteers. We do that against the backdrop of the changing world of work and the deep Christian principles which underpin not only our own understanding of work but also much of the modern labour movement.
In Scripture and in our tradition there is a rich theology of work from the Garden of Eden to the new Jerusalem, from the gentle wisdom of the Book of Proverbs to the parables of Jesus. But that theology is undeveloped for the 21st Century and we need to give our own scriptures greater weight. The Book of Isaiah ends with a striking focus on what makes for a good human society, the hallmark of the kingdom of God and includes good work and labour:
“No more shall there be (in Jerusalem) an infant who lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime……They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit….my chosen shall enjoy the work of their hands”.
Good, purposeful work is a key part of God’s vision for human flourishing. This means as a church and as a society we need to raise this debate and pay careful attention not just to the quantity but to the quality of jobs which are created.
These deeply Christian principles are embedded in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. They are echoed also in the Taylor Review on the future of work, commissioned by the government and published in 2018 under the title Good Work. The government accepted the recommendations of the report, that we need to focus as a society on the quality as well as the quantity of work, but we are still waiting for a detailed implementation plan.
There are many things which claim the attention of this Synod and of our Diocese in the coming months but few of such significance and importance. Both Church and Society need to re-engage in fresh thinking about work and its value in the light of the pandemic, the recession, the need for a carbon zero economy, the fourth industrial revolution and the rise of the gig economy. As in so many other areas, this will be a key decade of change.
Draft Synod motion
I want to propose to this Synod today that we return to this key theme at our next meeting in February and especially that we debate together and I hope pass a Diocesan Synod motion which will then go forward for a debate at the General Synod on the future quality and quantity of work in our society.
I particularly want us to commend as a Diocese and, I hope as the General Synod, work being done within the University of Oxford in partnership with other Universities across the world, and particularly in South Africa, on the notion of Fair Work within the gig economy.
The Fairwork project is attempting to articulate common international standards for platform workers which now affects tens of millions of people around the world. Those standards are in complete accord with the principles of justice and fairness and dignity we find in the scriptures:
- Fair Pay
- Fair Conditions
- Fair Contracts
- Fair Management
- Fair Representation
These principles are the very opposite of what we find now in the State of California. My hope is that by raising this debate here and in the General Synod we can raise the profile of these issues within Church and Society at this key turning point for the world.
Simon Cross, my research and Parliamentary assistant has been working with me on developing a draft motion for debate here, and this is our initial draft:
Mindful of the deep economic effects of the pandemic, particularly on young adults, the impacts of new technology and and the global rise of the gig economy, this Synod
(a) affirms the dignity and value of purposeful work as key component of human flourishing
(b) endorses the five principles used for evaluating fair and dignified platform work in the gig economy by Fairwork.org, and
(c) calls for the Faith and Order Commission (FAOC) to advise on what is essential to dignified and fair work in the context of the fourth industrial revolution now in progress
I would hope that we will be able to hear in the context of our debate in February different contemporary experiences of work and the challenge of the labour market across our Diocese. As we give time in this Synod rightly to the principles of good work and ministry across the Church, so I hope we will return in February to the principles of the quality and quantity of work across the whole world, for everyone.
I would be very happy to receive comments and questions and suggested improvements to the draft motion in the time we have this morning or in the coming weeks.
Disease, technology and sustainability are combining to raise sharp questions for the whole world in the coming decade, especially questions of purpose: what are our lives for? What is the place of work within them? What is the relationship between our labour and the outcomes of our labour? How do we ensure good quality, satisfying work for all?
As Christians we have vital insights to bring to this debate of justice and human worth and dignity. We need to engage in a way which is contemplative, compassionate and courageous and play our part in responding to the crises of our time.
14 November 2020
- Gig-economy workers are not computers – Simon Cross