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Sunday October 29, 2006 VIEWPOINT
The family and the right to work
- Enjoying the right to work
must not disrupt family life
by Nadine Bushell,
Member of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice

The average working Trinidadian spends approximately three hours getting to and from work. The evidence for this is the view of the Beetham, Churchill Roosevelt, Solomon Hochoy and Audrey Jeffers Highways on weekdays two hours before 8:00 a.m. and two to three hours after 4:00 p.m. And this is much worse if it rains.

Some persons, out of financial necessity, work long hours to ensure they remain in their jobs, while some work more than one job. There are others who, in an effort to obtain better jobs, spend a considerable amount of time in training and education programmes after work or on weekends. Hence in Trinidad and Tobago, work and work-related activities take up a considerable amount of the individual’s time. 

Time spent at work, getting to work and on work-related activities is supposed to be to the benefit of the family.  “Work is a foundation for the formation of family life, which is a natural right and something that man is called to (Laborem Exercens).

It ensures a means of subsistence and serves as a guarantee for raising children (Laborem Exercens).” In previous weeks, these articles focused on people’s right to work. This week we want to look at the relationship between this right to work and family life.

“Family and work, so closely interdependent in the experience of the vast majority of people, deserve finally to be considered in a more realistic light, with an attention that seeks to understand them together, without the limits of a strictly private conception of the family or a strictly economic view of work.”

In fact, family life and work mutually affect one another. This brings me back to the opening paragraph of this article.  Many of us because of work are unable to devote sufficient time to family activities, like assisting children with homework, or even just listening to them. Spending quality time with a spouse is for many a luxury; the time together is spent organising logistic arrangements for the next work and school day.

Often, because of the time spent at work, the stress of difficult bosses, vindictive or overly competitive co-workers, the modern work environment, and the two-hour traffic commute home, working people don’t want to speak with anyone when they get home.

Many of us have experienced this or heard others complain of it. This problem is highlighted further if there are special family circumstances that may require additional devotion – such as caring for ill and differently-abled family members; not everyone can pay for caregivers. 

In light of all of this “it is necessary that businesses, professional organisations, labour unions and the State promote policies that, from an employment point of view, do not penalise but rather support the family nucleus.” This is very important.

Many times we as workers, whether we are negotiating working conditions as individuals or in groups pay more focus on salary and fringe benefits; many of us do not pay adequate attention to those factors that will affect the family relationship; we concentrate on family finances. Now for the State, labour unions and business, it is imperative that policies do not promote values that encourage a disruption to family life. 

Business organisations should not actively encourage its employees to spend overtime hours at the workplace – they should ensure that their work processes and job design facilitate the efficient undertaking of the work, which ensures that employees are not unduly stressed; they must also encourage fair performance appraisal and promotion systems that will discourage vindictiveness in the office environment.

The labour unions should ensure during negotiations that emphasis is paid, not only on material benefits and physical working conditions, but also on employees’ psychological and family needs. 

The State must not only concentrate on promoting employment opportunities – but also on ensuring that the entire economic system benefits all aspects of the society. For instance, in Trinidad and Tobago, transportation arrangements need to be seriously investigated; the time spent on the road by most is likely to have negative effects on worker productivity.

The Compendium tells us “Travelling great distances to the workplace, working two jobs, physical and psychological fatigue all reduce the time devoted to the family (Charter of the Rights of the Family).

Situations of unemployment have material and spiritual repercussions on families, just as tensions and family crises have negative influences on attitudes and productivity in the area of work.”

Next week we look at “Women and the right to work”.  

Persons interested in purchasing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, may contact the Justice Desk, Archbishop’s House at 622-6680.
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