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Christian Ethics & the Future of Work

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The Winter 2019 issue looks at the impact that the gig economy and other factors have on our attitudes and shifting priorities regarding the nature and future of human work – have we abandoned the dignity and integrity of the worker to the incessant demands of the marketplace?



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The present issue of Studies contains all the papers delivered at the recent workshop, Regulating the Future of Work: a Christian Ethics Perspective, held in Trinity College Dublin on 4 October 2019.

The importance of the topic, at a time when the nature of work is changing, inequality between mainstream workers of all kinds and those at the highest levels is growing to grotesque and shamefully unjust extremes, and participants in the so-called ‘gig economy’, with all its precariousness, have become an everyday feature of life around us, needs no underlining.

The treatment in these papers, by scholars and practitioners with a variety of interests and specialisms, is engagingly diverse and highly thought-provoking. The salience of Catholic Social Teaching, in particular, emerges as a significant source of wisdom and insight. Much more needs to be made of this.

The workshop was the brainchild of Mark Bell, Regius Professor of Laws in Trinity College, who planned it, organised it and oversaw its successful operation. Studies is in his debt for the suggestion that this journal might publish the papers, which we are delighted to do.

In thanking him, we also thank all the speakers, who prepared their papers for publication at what was inevitably very short notice and under all the pressure of their lives and work elsewhere. It is very satisfactory to be able to include all nine papers and Dr David Begg’s closing reflections in a single volume, as a full record of the workshop and a resource for further reflection. Professor Bell, in addition to his own valuable paper on ‘The future of EU labour law: insights from Christian ethics’, contributes a helpful preface to introduce the issue.

Finally, unconnected with the main theme (although editing is real work too, as the present writer knows), this issue of Studies also contains a tribute to Fr Ronan Drury, editor of The Furrow from 1977 until his death at the great age of ninety-three at the end of 2017. The Furrow, as Fr Paul Clayton-Lea, an editor himself, points out, has been a significant pastoral journal in the Irish Church, appearing monthly since its foundation by Canon J G McGarry in 1950. Studies is honoured, through Paul Clayton-Lea, to pay tribute to Ronan, a great priest and an outstanding editor, who worked for forty years in a field not very far from our own.


  • Catholic Social Teaching and Freedom of Association in Ireland

    Gerry Whyte

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    In this paper, I wish to review the legal position of trade unions and their members under the Irish Constitution in light of Catholic Social Teaching on what the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (hereafter ‘the Compendium’) refers to as ‘the ever urgent worker question,

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  • Catholic Social Teaching and the Gig Economy: Engaging Labour Law and the Desert Fathers

    Cathleen Kaveny

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    Catholic Social Teaching has not only consistently emphasised the dignity of work, it has also tirelessly defended the intrinsic value of the worker. In Rerum novarum (1891), Pope Leo XIII admonished wealthy owners and employers ‘not to look upon their work people as their bondsmen, but to respect in every man his dignity as a person ennobled by Christian character’.

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  • Concluding Observations

    David Begg

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    I propose to offer some observations on the themes raised in the other papers, based on my own experience as a labour market practitioner over many years. Christian ethics has never been an abstract concept in industrial relations in Ireland.

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  • Don’t Mention It: The Unacknowledged Tie between Religion and Labour Law

    Thomas C Kohler

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    The unacknowledged tie between religion and labour law? How can that even constitute a topic? Everyone knows that wherever one looks, whether in civil or in common law systems, labour law arose in the early twentieth century.

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  • Just Work? Catholic & Feminist Perspectives on Labour and Livelihood

    Christine Firer Hinze

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    This brief essay is premised on two convictions. The first is that modern

    Catholic Social Teaching and thought, though it has many limits, provides

    a contemporary, Gospel- and tradition-based understanding of human

    flourishing, a specific orientation toward people and institutions, and a

    set of moral principles or base-points.

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  • Justice, Dignity, and Reward: Nurturing Relationships in the Gig Economy

    Calum Samuelson

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    The Bible has a great deal to say about workers and work, but, due to considerable cultural and economic differences, it can be difficult to apply biblical wisdom to the complex landscape of modern work.

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  • Precarious Work Leads to Precarious Lives: the Irish Experience and Policy Responses

    Sinéad Pembroke

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    Paid work is an aspiration for many people. Many of us are thankful to have it, and it forms an integral part of our identity; often one of the first questions we ask a person is ‘what do you do for a living?’

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  • Prioritising McDonalds: The Gift of Work and Catholic Social Teaching

    Kevin Hargaden

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    As a teenager, my wife had a friend who worked part-time at a local McDonalds. The roster was drawn up without reference to the fact that she was preparing to sit her Leaving Certificate exams.

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  • The Future of EU Labour Law: Insights from Christian Ethics

    Mark Bell

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    This article focuses upon the discreet question of what role, if any, there might be for Christian ethics in shaping the future direction of EU labour law.

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  • The Future of Work after Laudato si’

    Martin Maier SJ

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    The encyclical Laudato Si’ of Pope Francis is a document that is both dramatic and hopeful. Dramatic because it leaves the reader in no doubt that the prevailing global system, with its reckless exploitation of natural resources and dangerous climate change, is heading for catastrophe.

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