Vatican faces employee protest over pay

Vatican employees have complained to Pope Francis about labour inequality, low morale and pay cuts as the world’s smallest city state is sucked into the global debate about the future of work sparked by the Covid-19 crisis.

In an open letter to the head of the Catholic Church, the Vatican employees said that the Holy See’s decision to cut worker salaries during the pandemic had been unfair, and perpetuated an “exclusive, anti-meritocratic and disincentivising” workplace.

This year Pope Francis issued a decree that the Vatican would cut the salaries of cardinals by 10 per cent, and reduce other staff pay by between 3 per cent and 8 per cent, in order to cope with a ballooning budget deficit caused by a collapse in revenues during the pandemic.

“According to the most basic theories of work psychology, these strategies not only do not pay off in the long run, in terms of motivation, personal satisfaction and production, they boomerang in terms of performance,” the Vatican employees wrote in an unsigned letter published in multiple Italian media outlets.

The Vatican declined to comment on the letter. One official confirmed it had been circulated around several Holy See offices, but said it was unclear how many employees were signatories. The Vatican, which has a permanent population of fewer than 1000 people, had a total of 4,618 employees in 2019, according to its state news outlet.

The letter complained that the pandemic had increased job pressure while many did not have the option of working remotely, and said there was “great bitterness” that the Vatican had not yet established a human resources department.

The employees also said that the Holy See’s austerity drive was particularly upsetting as Vatican workers were unable to enjoy benefits that they would have in private companies, including “productivity bonuses, promotions based on achieved objectives, merit-based systems of selection and professional growth”.

The decision to cut salaries by the Pope had an “honourable purpose” to safeguard existing jobs, the letter said, but added that staff were “bitter” about not having been consulted about the decision and complained some employees were suffering more than others. They also requested a meeting with Pope Francis to discuss the situation.

This year Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, the Vatican’s top economic official, said its spending this year will be “the lowest in the recent history of the Holy See” as the closure of its museums during lockdown measures and a fall in donations have put a squeeze on its finances.

The Vatican has said it expects its total revenues to fall 30 per cent this year to €213m compared with 2019, the year before the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe, and to post a deficit of €49.7m for 2021 compared with a €11m deficit in 2019.

To plug the gap it has said it will use money from its reserves, the exact size of which are unknown and encompass vast real estate holdings around the world and other investments controlled by APSA, its sovereign wealth manager. 

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