Pope Francis says "The COVID crisis has already affected the most vulnerable and they should not be adversely affected by measures to accelerate a recovery..." FULL TEXT to Labor Conference



[GENEVA, JUNE 17, 2021]

Mr. President of the International Labor Conference,
Dear Representatives of Governments, Employers 'and Workers' Organizations :

I am grateful to the Director General, Mr. Guy Ryder, who has so kindly invited me to present this message at the World of Work Summit. This Conference is convened at a crucial moment in social and economic history, which presents serious and wide-ranging challenges for the entire world. In recent months, the International Labor Organization, through its periodic reports, has done a commendable job paying special attention to our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.

During the persistent crisis, we should continue to exercise "special care" for the common good.


Many of the possible and anticipated disorders have not yet manifested themselves, therefore careful decisions will be required. The decrease in working hours in recent years has resulted in both job losses and a reduction in working hours for those who keep their jobs. Many utilities, as well as businesses, have faced tremendous difficulties, some running the risk of full or partial bankruptcy. Around the world, we have seen unprecedented job losses in 2020.

In the rush to return to greater economic activity at the end of the COVID-19 threat, let's avoid past fixations on profit, isolationism and nationalism, blind consumerism, and denial of clear evidence pointing to discrimination against our "disposable" brothers and sisters in our society. On the contrary, let us look for solutions that help us build a new future of work based on decent and dignified working conditions, that comes from collective bargaining, and that promotes the common good, a foundation that will make work an essential component of our care. of society and creation. In that sense, work is truly and essentially human. This is what it is about, be human.

Recalling the fundamental role that this Organization and this Conference play as privileged places for constructive dialogue, we are called to prioritize our response to workers who are on the margins of the world of work and who are still affected by the pandemic of the COVID-19: Low-skilled workers, day laborers, those in the informal sector, migrant and refugee workers, those who do what is often called “three-dimensional work”: dangerous, dirty and degrading, and so we can continue the list.

Many vulnerable migrants and workers, along with their families, are normally excluded from access to national programs for health promotion, disease prevention, treatment and care, as well as from financial protection plans and psychosocial services. It is one of the many cases of this philosophy of disposal that we have become used to imposing on our societies.This exclusion complicates early detection, testing, diagnosis, contact tracing, and seeking medical care for COVID-19 for refugees and migrants, thereby increasing the risk of outbreaks. among those populations. Such outbreaks may be uncontrolled or even actively hidden, constituting an additional threat topublic health [1].

The lack of social protection measures against the impact of COVID-19 has caused an increase in poverty, unemployment, underemployment, an increase in the informality of work, the delay in the incorporation of young people into the labor market, which It is very serious, the increase in child labor, even more serious, vulnerability to human trafficking, food insecurity and greater exposure to infection among populations such as the sick and the elderly. In this regard, I welcome this opportunity to raise some key concerns and observations.

In the first place, it is the essential mission of the Church to appeal to all to work together, with governments, multilateral organizations and civil society, to serve and care for the common good and guarantee the participation of all in this endeavor. No one should be left aside in a dialogue for the common good, the objective of which is, above all, to build and consolidate peace and trust among all. The most vulnerable - young people, migrants, indigenous communities, the poor - cannot be left aside in a dialogue that should also bring together governments, businessmen and workers. It is also essential that all denominations and religious communities commit together. The Church has a long experience in participating in these dialogues through its local communities, popular movements and organizations, and she offers herself to the world as a bridge builder to help create the conditions for this dialogue or, where appropriate, to help facilitate it. These dialogues for the common good are essential to achieve a supportive and sustainable future of our common home and should take place both at the community, national and international levels. And one of the characteristics of true dialogue is that those who dialogue are on the same level of rights and duties. Not one who has fewer rights or more rights dialogues with one who does not have them. The same level of rights and duties thus guarantees a serious dialogue. These dialogues for the common good are essential to achieve a supportive and sustainable future of our common home and should take place both at the community, national and international levels. And one of the characteristics of true dialogue is that those who dialogue are on the same level of rights and duties. Not one who has fewer rights or more rights dialogues with one who does not have them. The same level of rights and duties thus guarantees a serious dialogue. These dialogues for the common good are essential to achieve a supportive and sustainable future of our common home and should take place both at the community, national and international levels. And one of the characteristics of true dialogue is that those who dialogue are on the same level of rights and duties. Not one who has fewer rights or more rights dialogues with one who does not have them. The same level of rights and duties thus guarantees a serious dialogue.

Second, it is also essential to the mission of the Church to ensure that everyone gets the protection they need based on their vulnerabilities: illness, age, disability, displacement, marginalization or dependency. Social protection systems, which in turn are facing significant risks, need to be supported and expanded to ensure access to health services, food and basic human needs. In times of emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, special assistance measures are required. Special attention to the comprehensive and effective provision of assistance through public services is also important. Social protection systems have been called upon to face many of the challenges of the crisis, at the same time that its weaknesses have become more evident. Finally, the protection of workers and the most vulnerable must be guaranteed by respecting their essential rights, including the right to organize. In other words, organizing is a right. The COVID crisis has already affected the most vulnerable and they should not be adversely affected by measures to accelerate a recovery that focuses solely on economic markers. In other words, here we also need a reform of the economic mode, a thorough reform of the economy. The way of running the economy has to be diverse, it also has to change.

At this time of reflection, as we seek to shape our future action and shape a post-COVID-19 international agenda, we should pay particular attention to the real danger of forgetting those who have been left behind. They run the risk of being attacked by an even worse virus of COVID-19: that of selfish indifference. In other words, a society cannot progress by discarding, it cannot progress. East The virus spreads by thinking that life is better if it is better for me, and that everything will be fine if it is good for me, and thus it begins and ends by selecting one person instead of another, discarding the poor, sacrificing those left behind at the so-called "altar of progress." And it is an entire elite dynamic, of the constitution of new elites at the cost of discarding many people and many peoples.

Looking to the future, it is essential that the Church, and therefore the action of the Holy See with the International Labor Organization, support measures that correct unfair or incorrect situations that affect labor relations, making them completely subjugated to the idea of ​​"exclusion ”, Or violating the fundamental rights of workers. A threat is constituted by the theories that consider profit and consumption as independent elements or as autonomous variables of economic life, excluding workers and determining their unbalanced standard of living: « Today everything falls within the game of competitiveness and law of morestrong, where the powerful eat the weaker. As a consequence of this situation, great masses of the population are excluded and marginalized: without work, without horizons, without way out " ( Evangelii Gaudium , n. 53).

The current pandemic has reminded us that there are no differences or borders between those who suffer. We are all fragile and, at the same time, all of great value. May we be deeply shaken by what is happening around us. The time has come to eliminate inequalities, to cure the injustice that is undermining the health of the entire human family. Facing the Agenda of the International Labor Organization, we must continue as we did in 1931, when Pope Pius XIAs a result of the Wall Street crisis and in the midst of the “Great Depression”, he denounced the asymmetry between workers and employers as a flagrant injustice that gave capital a free hand and availability. It went like this: “For a long time, indeed, wealth or 'capital' attributed too much to themselves. Capital claimed for itself all the yield, the totality of the product, leaving the worker just what was necessary to repair and restore his strength ”( Quadragesimo anno, n. 54). Even in these circumstances, the Church promoted the position that the amount of remuneration for work performed should not only be intended to meet the immediate and current needs of workers, but also to open the ability of workers to safeguard the future savings of their families or investments capable of guaranteeing a margin of safety for the future.

Thus, from the first session of the International Conference, the Holy See supports a uniform regulation applicable to work in all its different aspects, as a guarantee for workers [two]. His conviction is that work, and therefore workers, can count on guarantees, support and empowerment if they are protected from the “game” of deregulation. In addition, legal norms must be oriented towards the expansion of employment, decent work and the rights and duties of the human person. All of them are necessary means for their well-being, for integral human development and for the common good.

The Catholic Church and the International Labor Organization, responding to their different natures and roles, can continue to apply their respective strategies, but they can also continue to take advantage of the opportunities presented to collaborate on a wide variety of relevant actions.

To promote this common action, it is necessary to correctly understand the work. The first element for this understanding calls us to focus the necessary attention on all forms of work, including non-standard forms of employment. Work goes beyond what has traditionally been known as “formal employment”, and the Decent Work Agenda must include all forms of work. The lack of social protection for informal economy workers and their families makes them particularly vulnerable to shocks, as they cannot count on the protection offered by social insurance or poverty-oriented social assistance schemes. Women in the informal economy, including street vendors and domestic workers, feel the impact of COVID-19 in many ways: from isolation to extreme exposure to health risks. By not having accessible childcare centers, the children of these workers are exposed to a greater health risk, as women have to take them to workplaces or leave them unprotected in their homes.[3]. It is therefore very necessary to ensure that social assistance reaches the informal economy and pays special attention to the particular needs of women and girls.

The pandemic reminds us that many women around the world continue to cry for freedom, justice and equality among all human persons: “although there were notable improvements in the recognition of women's rights and in their participation in public space , there is still a lot to advance in some countries. Unacceptable customs are not being eradicated, I highlight the shameful violence that is sometimes exerted on women, family abuse and different forms of slavery […] I think of […] the unequal access to decent jobs and to places where decisions are made ”( Amoris laetitia , n. 54).

The second element for a correct understanding of work: if work is a relationship, then it has to incorporate the dimension of care, because no relationship can survive without care. We're not just talking about care work here: the pandemic reminds us of its fundamental importance, which we may have neglected. The caregoes further, it must be a dimension of all work. A job that does not care, that destroys creation, thatit endangers the survival of future generations, is not respectful of the dignity of workers and cannot be considered decent. On the contrary, a job that cares, contributes to the restoration of full human dignity, will contribute to ensuring a sustainable future for future generations.[4]. And workers enter this dimension of care first. In other words, a question that we can ask ourselves on a daily basis: how does a company, let's imagine, take care of its workers?

In addition to a correct understanding of work, emerging in better conditions from the current crisis will require the development of a culture of solidarity, to contrast with the culture of waste that is at the root of inequality and that afflicts the world. To achieve this objective, the contribution of all those cultures, such as indigenous and popular cultures, which are often considered marginal, but which keep alive the practice of solidarity, which “expresses much more than some sporadic acts of generosity, must be valued. ». Each people has its culture, and I think it is time to free ourselves definitively from the heritage of the Enlightenment, which brought the word culture to a certain type of intellectual formation or social belonging. Each people has its culture and we must assume it as it is. «It is to think and act in terms of community, of priority in the life of all over the appropriation of goods by some. It is also fighting against the structural causes of poverty, inequality, lack of work, land and housing, the denial of social and labor rights. It is facing the destructive effects of the Empire of money. [...] Solidarity, understood in its deepest sense, is a way of making history and that is what popular movements do ”( Fratelli tutti , n. 116).

With these words I address you, participants in the 109th International Labor Conference, because as institutionalized actors in the world of work, you have a great opportunity to influence the processes of change already underway. Their responsibility is great, but the good they can accomplish is even greater. Therefore, I invite you to respond to the challenge that we face. Established actors can count on the legacy of their history, which continues to be a resource of fundamental importance, but in this historical phase they are called to remain open to the dynamism of society and to promote the emergence and inclusion of less traditional and more marginal actors, alternative and innovative impulse carriers.

I ask political leaders and those who work in governments to always be inspired by that form of love that is political charity: «“ An equally indispensable act of charity [is] the effort aimed at organizing and structuring society in such a way that neighbor does not have to suffer misery ”. It is charity to accompany a person who suffers, and everything that is done is also charity, even without having direct contact with that person, to modify the social conditions that cause their suffering. If someone helps an old man to cross a river, and that is exquisite charity, the politician builds him a bridge, and that is also charity. If someone helps another with food, the politician creates a source of work for him, and exercises a very high mode of charity that ennobles his political action »( Fratelli tutti, n. 186).

I remind entrepreneurs of their true vocation: to produce wealth at the service of all. Entrepreneurship is essentially “a noble vocation aimed at producing wealth and improving the world for all. God promotes us, expects us to develop the capacities that he gave us and filled the universe with potentialities. In his designs, each man is called to promote his own progress, and this includes fostering economic and technological capacities to make goods grow and increase wealth. But in any case, these capacities of entrepreneurs, which are a gift from God, should be clearly oriented towards the development of other people and overcoming poverty, especially through the creation of diversified sources of work. Always, together with the right to private property,Fratelli tutti , b. 123). Sometimes, when we speak of private property, we forget that it is a secondary right, that it depends on this primary right, which is the universal destination of goods.

I invite trade unionists and workers' association leaders not to allow themselves to be trapped in a "straitjacket", to focus on the specific situations of the neighborhoods and communities in which they operate, while at the same time posing issues related to broader economic policies and "macro-relationships" [5]. Also in this historical phase, the trade union movement faces two momentous challenges : The first is prophecy, and it is related to the very nature of unions, their most genuine vocation. Unions are an expression of the prophetic profile of society. Trade unions are born and reborn every time that, like the biblical prophets, they give a voice to those who do not have it, they denounce those who “would sell the poor for a pair of flip-flops”, as the prophet says (cf. Amos 2,6) , they undress the powerful who trample the rights of the most vulnerable workers, they defend the cause of foreigners, the least and the rejected. Sure, when a The union is corrupted, and it cannot do this anymore, and it becomes the status of pseudo bosses, also estranged from the people.

The second challenge: innovation. The prophets are sentinels who watch from their observation post. Also the unions must watch over the walls of the city of work, as a guard who watches and protects those who are inside the city of work, but also watches and protects those who are outside the walls. Unions do not fulfill their essential role of social innovation if they only watch over retirees. This must be done, but it is half your job. Its vocation is also to protect those who still do not have rights, those who are excluded from work and who are also excluded from rights and democracy[6].

Dear participants in the tripartite processes of the International Labor Organization and of this International Labor Conference: the Church supports you, walks by your side. The Church makes its resources available, beginning with its spiritual resources and its Social Doctrine. The pandemic has taught us that we are all in the same boat and that only together can we emerge from the crisis. Thank you.


[1] Cf. "Preparedness, prevention, and control of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) for refugees and migrants in non-camp settings", Interim Guidance, World Health Organization, April 17, 2020, https: //www.who. int / publications-detail / preparedness-prevention-and-control-of-coronavirus disease- (covid-19) -for-refugees-and-migrants-in-non-camp-settings.

[2] Cf. Letter Noi rendiamo grazie from Pope Leo XIII to His Majesty William II, March 14, 1890.

[3] Cf. https://www.wiego.org/sites/default/files/resources/file/Impact_on_livelihoods_COVID- 19_final_EN_1.pdf

[4] Cf. Care is work, work is care , Report of “The future of work, labor after laudato Si project”, https://futureofwork-labourafterlaudatosi.net/.

[5] Cf. To the participants in the World Meeting of Popular Movements , November 5, 2016.

[6] Cf. To the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (CISL) , June 28, 2017.