European Catholic Church groups have joined trade unions to protect Sundays and ensure fairer conditions for family life.

Catholic groups join unions seeking work-free Sundays in Europe

By  Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service
  • July 7, 2011

OXFORD, England - Catholic Church groups have joined trade unions in the European Sunday Alliance, which will campaign to protect Sundays and ensure fairer conditions for family life.

"Some people say there can never be a return to work-free Sundays — but the many working together in this alliance don't share this view," said Anna Echterhoff, legal adviser for institutional and social affairs at the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, one of the organizations supporting the alliance. "That so many stakeholders from different backgrounds are involved is something new and unique."

The alliance was launched June 20 in Brussels by 65 Church organizations, unions and civil associations. Among them are Europe's Catholic Youth Network, the Central Committee of German Catholics, representatives of the German bishops and the European Jesuits, Poland's Solidarity union, France's Force Ouvriere and the Danish food workers' union. It also includes family organizations from a dozen countries.

In a July 4 interview with Catholic News Service, Echterhoff said Sundays were protected under EU law as a rest day for children and adolescents. She said she hoped work-free Sundays would be reinstated under an EU directive now being prepared.

"The European Sunday Alliance is only at the beginning — we count on other groups and organizations joining the campaign as well," she said. "It's clear there's growing support for the kind of steps the alliance is recommending."

In a founding declaration, the alliance said decent working hours were of "paramount importance" to citizens of the European Union, which should uphold "the social contract of a modern European society" by encouraging "reconciliation of professional and family life."

"Only a well-protected, common work-free day enables citizens to enjoy full participation in cultural, sports, social and religious life, to seek cultural enrichment and spiritual well-being," said the declaration.

Calls for the preservation of work-free Sundays have increased in the EU, where shops and businesses now routinely require staff to turn up on weekends without extra pay.

In its declaration, the European Sunday Alliance said irregular hours were creating "unsustainable working time patterns" and having a "serious negative effect" on health and safety by fueling stress, illness and absenteeism. It added that they were also the main source of "working poor" in Europe and said the EU should "ensure its legislation and internal market rules better guarantee the work and life balance."

"People usually work on Sundays or at irregular hours out of financial necessity rather than choice," it said.

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