Clerics out of touch, say firms

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CLAIMS BY two senior churchmen that flexible working conditions are destroying family life were vehemently denied by the business community last night.

Cardinal Basil Hume, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, and James Jones, the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, expressed concern that anti-social shifts and long working hours posed a threat to children's futures.

In an interview yesterday with GMTV's Sunday programme, Cardinal Hume said shop staff and City traders preparing for the introduction of the euro should have refused to work over the festive period.

On the same programme Bishop Jones urged employers to take more account of the family. He said: "I think the way some people are made to work is very destructive of family life and people who lead companies ought to be more responsible."

But Ruth Lea, head of policy for the Institute of Directors, said the churchmen were "out of touch" and should accept that Britain was a multi- cultural society with many non- Christians happy to work over the festive period. "Businesses have to compete and on the whole employers will try and be accommodating but they have to be able to survive," she said.

"At the end of the day employees want their company to do well, otherwise there will be no jobs at all, and don't forget they do get paid."

Many of the big supermarkets insisted that employees had freedom of choice concerning working hours over Christmas. A spokeswoman for Somerfield supermarkets said that parents were given an option to work over the period. "One of the advantages of working very flexible hours is that people are given the choice to juggle their families," she said.

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