Changing Workplace, Unchanging Faith
Over 85 business, labour, organizational, and academic leaders participated in a conference WRF jointly sponsored with the Christian Labour Association of Canada. The conferees attended five plenary sessions in addition to participating in two of five workshops focusing on a specific area of change in the emerging economy.
Don Posterski, with World Vision Canada, opened the conference by encouraging attendees to consider the role of faith in the workplace. He suggested five things: the inherent goodness of work, a respect for diversity, accountability, protection of the vulnerable, and a de-escalation of conflict.
Lee Hardy, author of The Fabric of This World, discussed the need to separate work and vocation. Although vocation embraces work, it is much larger than work because it is our response to be obedient to God's call for our whole life. Work becomes more meaningful when it is seen within this broader framework.
The Friday evening address was free to the general public and featured a presentation by Dr. John Bolt entitled "Greed, Goodness and God: Hope for Canada's Bottom Line." Dr. Bolt made the distinction between greed and self-interest and argued that greed is primarily a problem of the soul, rather than a problem of inequitable distribution. Addressing only the results of greed leads to policy advocacy based on envy rather than on true justice.
On Saturday morning, two keynote addresses were given. The first, by Dr. Elwil Beukes, an economics professor from King's College in Edmonton, was an international tour of the emerging economy. Dr. Beukes argued that economic efficiency and economic justice are not mutually exclusive. Rather, through the responsible participation of the various players, examples of prosperous balance exist. He cited the story of Semco Inc. in Brazil. Semco is a highly successful traditional manufacturing firm employing highly unorthodox labour relations practises in a unionized setting. Dr. Beukes presentation highlighted the dynamic aspects of economic principles and gave hope for those who desire to find new solutions to new challenges.
Marc Bacon, an engineer and labour relations consultant from Quebec, speaking from personal experience, offered practical suggestions on how to integrate our Christian faith with the challenges of the workplace, particularly in labour negotiations. He maintained that principled people can be very effective in an unprincipled workplace. On the basis of principle, and concern for the other side, Mr. Bacon suggested labour and management can move from adversaries to partners.
Harry Antonides, WRF's retired Director of Research, concluded the conference with a passionate plea to keep a larger vision on what our role is in Canadian society, while at the same time taking the necessary small steps to incrementally make a difference. Harry pointed out that Alexander Solzhenitzen's analysis that "numerous freely nurtured falsehoods" undergirded the Soviet system, may well apply to the Canadian scene, which, in Mr. Antonides words, is fast becoming a pagan society. In the current milieu, we need a spirit of wisdom based on a Christian understanding of society and the structures within it.
On Friday, between the plenary sessions, workshops were presented by David Lyons ("Technology and Privacy in the Workplace"), John Sutherland ("Christian Ethics in Business/Management Decisions"), John Kamphof ("New Structures in a Changing Workplace"), Rob Bronson ("Technology or People: What Drives the Modern Workplace?"), and Ed Koke and Melanie Reist ("Employee and Employer Rights: A Legal Perspective"). Each of the workshops initiated a fair degree of interaction and information sharing.
Attendees concurred that the conference was a helpful and worthwhile event. WRF will continue to organize and sponsor similar events as part of its mandate.