Pope Francis: Do not forget workers pushed to the margins by pandemic

Courtney Mares   By Courtney Mares for CNA

Pope Francis at his general audience address in the library of the Apostolic Palace May 5, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, Jun 17, 2021 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis addressed an International Labor Organization (ILO) summit Thursday, calling for dignified working conditions and support for workers on the margins of the labor market still affected by pandemic losses.

“In 2020, we saw an unprecedented loss of employment all over the world. In our haste to return to greater economic activity, at the end of the COVID-19 threat, let us avoid excessive fixations on benefit, isolation and nationalism, blind consumerism, and denial of the clear evidence of discrimination against our ‘dispensable’ brothers and sisters in our society,” the pope said via a video message to the ILO’s World of Work Summit on June 17.

“On the contrary, let us look for solutions that will help us build a new future of work based on decent and dignified working conditions, originating in collective negotiation, and promoting the common good, a phrase that will make work an essential component of our care for society and Creation. In this sense, work is truly and essentially human.”

The pope was one of several world leaders to speak on the first day of the ILO’s virtual summit.

U.S. President Joe Biden, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, the president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also addressed the summit on the same day.

In his video message delivered in Spanish, Pope Francis warned summit participants against having an “elitist dynamic” that discards others and sacrifices “those who have been left behind, on the so-called ‘altar of progress.’”

“Faced with the Agenda of the International Labor Organization, we must continue as we did in 1931, when Pope Pius XI, after the Wall Street crisis and in the midst of the ‘Great Depression,’ denounced the asymmetry between workers and entrepreneurs as a flagrant injustice that gave carte blanche and means to capital,” the pope said.

Quoting Pius XI’s encyclical, Quadragesimo anno, he said: “‘Property that is, ‘capital,’ has undoubtedly long been able to appropriate too much to itself. Whatever was produced, whatever returns accrued, capital claimed for itself, hardly leaving to the worker enough to restore and renew his strength.’”

He added: “Even in those circumstances, the Church promoted the position that the amount of pay for work done should not only be intended to meet the immediate and current needs of workers, but also to open up the ability of workers to safeguard their families’ future savings and investments to provide a margin of security for the future.”

“Legal norms must be geared towards employment growth, dignified work, and the rights and duties of the human person,” he said.

The pope called for the expansion of social protection systems to ensure access to health services, food, and basic human needs. He said that the lack of social protection during the pandemic resulted in increased poverty, unemployment, and an increase in illegal work.

“We are called upon to prioritize our response to workers on the margins of the labor market who are still affected by the COVID-19 pandemic: low-skilled workers, day laborers, those who work illegally, migrant and refugee workers, those who carry out what is commonly referred to as … dangerous, dirty and degrading,” he said.

The ILO is a United Nations agency based in Geneva dedicated to improving labor conditions. Its member states are not only represented by government officials, but also by leaders of trade unions.

Pope Francis told the ILO that the trade union movement currently faces two major challenges. The first is not to forget its “prophetic” call to “expose the powerful who trample on the rights of the most vulnerable workers, defend the cause of foreigners, the least and the rejected.”

“Clearly, when a trade union becomes corrupt, it can no longer do this, and its status transforms into that of a pseudo-employer, itself distanced from the people,” the pope said.

The second challenge facing trade unions is that of innovation, he explained, adding that unions should also protect those who are excluded from work and rights.

“As we seek to shape our future action and shape a post-COVID-19 international agenda, we should pay particular attention to the very real danger of forgetting those who have been left behind. They run the risk of being attacked by a virus even worse than COVID-19: that of selfish indifference,” Pope Francis said.


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