The Good Life and the Working Society

The topics of work and labour are more relevant than ever. Unemployment, taxation of labour, precarious working conditions or the inclusion of persons entitled to asylum into the labour market are frequently discussed issues that strongly shape the political and public discourse.

In this project, Caritas Austria and the ifz worked together to investigate the relationship between work and the good and flourishing life. What conditions related to work contribute to the good life and in what way do they endanger it? An important feature of the project was to include vulnerable people themselves in the study and to give them a chance to state their points of view in several workshops. Among them were (older) unemployed people, people with disabilities, people with mental illnesses, people with drug addictions and people who have to combine gainful occupation with private care work.

From the perspective of social ethics, good work incorporates at least the following aspects:

  • It pays enough to meet the material conditions for a good life. This claim includes that care work (e.g. elderly or child care), which typically happens within the family, is recognized duly, distributed in a fair way, and not connected to higher risks of poverty for those, who perform it.
  • Good work helps to develop and to strengthen capabilities and competences. Moreover, it serves human freedom and is conducive to a positive identity.
  • Good work contributes to the common good – it is no egoistic enterprise. Its ethical evaluation therefore always includes an assessment of its social implications.
  • Good work involves an attitude of responsibility towards others and towards nature. It must not exploit the environment, but is sustainable in a comprehensive way.

Current developments in our working society imply that more and more people have difficulties to find good work – their good life is in danger. Issues frequently discussed in our workshops included the problem of low wages and precarious working conditions, such as time pressure, stress and excessive demands that negatively affect physical and mental health, lack of security in relation to fixed term contracts, and a general pressure that many felt they could not bear through the whole working life. Participants reported stigmatization and the experience of not getting a chance to prove themselves; and they depicted the negative feeling of being dependent on others and the wish to have decent working conditions.

Improvements at different levels are necessary. Every single human being is requested to contribute positively to (working) society according to her abilities and possibilities. As a society, we have to reduce stereotypes and stigmatization towards unemployed people or people “at the margins”. On the contrary, they have to be supported regarding the fulfilment of their rights and the development of a positive identity. Political and economic players have the strongest responsibilities. Enterprises and corporations should serve the common good, be sustainable and provide decent working conditions. Labour market policies have to fit to the abilities and living conditions of the persons affected; this can happen through coaching, support of adequate qualification and training but also through generating publicly funded jobs for vulnerable persons. In all these measures, the whole person and her social context has to be taken into account – her dignity, liberty and identity must be safeguarded.

The final report (in German language) will be available for download in fall 2017.