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Just Work: Humanising the Labour Market in a Changing World

Just Work: Humanising the Labour Market in a Changing World

As the relationship between work, time and place changes, this report explores how we can rediscover patterns of rest for human beings and for ecosystems. (2021)

Currently, the world of work is facing three great disruptions: the technological (AI, machine learning, and automation), the ecological (climate change, loss of biodiversity), and anthropological (human vulnerability – seen through the pandemic, migration and declining birth rates). Any of these would see many jobs eliminated, replaced, or changed. Together they create an unpredictable environment in which work could be dehumanised – or, we could seize these disruptions as an opportunity to humanise work and working conditions.  

As the relationship between work, time and place changes, there is a need to rediscover patterns of rest for human beings and for ecosystems. 

 We have three key proposals:

1. Paid employment is the main – but not the only – form of work. Paid employment is the way in which most people share in collective wealth, but unpaid work is also crucial to a flourishing society. We should recognise caring responsibilities and volunteer work as important forms of work. Our collective aim should be a ‘full work’ rather than ‘full employment’ economy, recognising the need both to distribute paid employment better, and to duly acknowledge, create space for, and properly support unpaid but essential forms of work.

2. All stakeholders need to recognise the human priority in work. Investors, and first and foremost church investors, have achieved tangible changes through activism in areas such as climate change and governance. They should add clear requirements on the fair handling of wages, benefits, agency work, outsourcing and employee surveillance to the social criteria they look at within environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing. While governments have a role in setting the conditions in which good jobs with fair conditions become the norm (see below), the nature of global markets mean that national governments are not always the most powerful actors.

3. Dissolving boundaries between employment and leisure – exacerbated during the pandemic – have negatively affected many workers. The biblical idea of a Sabbath is an ancient answer to a very modern anxiety. 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. We recommend:

(a) that the UK should hold more public holidays; 

(b) we should look for ways to eliminate at least some of the vast quantity of unpaid overtime in the economy (including by encouraging employers to pay overtime, so that the costs of work over and above legal hours are made explicit; this would have the added benefit of helping to maintain employment, as employers would have to increase hiring numbers to avoid paying 1.5x–2x overtime rates); and 

(c) support for the Living Hours movement of the Living Wage Foundation. 

Download the report here.

Read our launch blog here.

Watch the recording of the launch event here.


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 Photo by Carl Campbell on Unsplash

Paul Bickley

Paul Bickley

Paul is Head of Political Engagement at Theos. His background is in Parliament and public affairs, and he holds an MLitt from the University of St Andrews’ School of Divinity.

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