17 June 2021 | Message


I thank the Director-General, Mr Guy Ryder, who so graciously invited me to
present this message to the World of Work Summit. This Conference has been
convened at a crucial moment in social and economic history, which presents
serious and far-reaching challenges to the entire world. In recent months, the
International Labour Organization, through its periodic reports, has done a
commendable job of dedicating particular attention to our most vulnerable
brothers and sisters.
During this persistent crisis, we should continue to exercise “special care” for the
common good. Many of the possible and expected upheavals 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 the working day of those who have kept their jobs. Many public
services, as well as many businesses, have faced tremendous difficulties, some
running the risk of total or partial bankruptcy. Throughout the world in 2020 we
saw an unprecedented loss of employment.
In our haste to return to greater economic activity, at the end of the Covid-19
threat, let us avoid the past fixations on profit, isolation and nationalism, blind
consumerism and denial of the clear evidence that signals discrimination against
our “throwaway” brothers and sisters in our society. 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, that originate in collective negotiation, and that
promote 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. That is what it is about, being human.
Recalling the fundamental role that this Organization and this Conference play as
privileged arenas for constructive dialogue, we are called upon to prioritize our
response to workers who find themselves on the margins of the labour market
and who are still affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; low-skilled workers, day
labourers, those who work in the informal sector, migrant and refugee workers,
those who perform what are commonly referred to as “3Ds occupations”:
dangerous, dirty and degrading, and the list could go on.
Many migrants and vulnerable workers, together with their families, usually
remain excluded from access to national programmes for health promotion,
disease prevention, treatment and care, as well as plans for financial protection
and psychosocial services. This is one of the many cases of this philosophy of
rejection that we have become accustomed to imposing in our societies. This
exclusion complicates early detection, testing, diagnosis, contact tracing and
seeking medical assistance for Covid-19 for refugees and migrants, and thus
increases the risk of outbreaks in those populations. Such outbreaks may not be
controlled or may even be knowingly concealed, which poses an additional threat
to public health. (Cf. “Preparedness, prevention, and control of coronavirus
disease (Covid-19) for refugees and migrants in non-camp settings”, Interim
Guidance, World Health Organization, 17 April 2020).
The lack of social protection measures in the face of the impact of Covid-19 has
resulted in increased poverty, unemployment, underemployment, an increase of
informal work, a delay in the inclusion of young people in the labour market,
which is very serious, an increase in child labour, which is even more serious,
vulnerability to human trafficking, food insecurity and increased exposure to
infection among populations such as the sick and the elderly. In this regard, I
am grateful for this opportunity to set out some key concerns and observations.
Firstly, it is the fundamental mission of the Church to appeal to everyone to work
together, with governments, multilateral organizations and civil society, to serve
and care for the common good and to ensure everyone’s participation in this
task. No one should be left aside in a dialogue for the common good, the goal of
which is, above all, to build and strengthen peace and trust among all. The most
vulnerable — young people, migrants, indigenous communities, the poor —
cannot be left aside in a dialogue that ought to also bring together governments,
business people and workers. It is also essential that all confessions and
religious communities work hard together. The Church has a long experience of
participating in these dialogues through her local communities, popular
movements and organizations, and she offers herself to the world as a builder of
bridges to help create the conditions for such a dialogue or, where opportune, to
help facilitate it. These dialogues for the common good are essential for
achieving a solidarity-based and sustainable future for our common home, and
should be held at community, national and international levels. And one of the
hallmarks of true dialogue is that those in dialogue are at the same level of
rights and obligations; and not that one who has fewer rights or more rights
dialogues with one who does not have them. The same level of rights and
obligations thus guarantees a serious dialogue.
Secondly, it is also essential to the mission of the Church to ensure that all
obtain the protection they need according to their vulnerability: illness, age,
disability, displacement, marginalization or dependency. Social protection
systems, which in turn are facing major risks, must 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
needed. Particular attention to the integral and effective provision of assistance
through public services is likewise important. Social protection systems have
been called upon to meet many of the challenges of the crisis, and at the same
time their weak points have become more evident. Lastly, protection of workers
and of the most vulnerable must be ensured through the respect of their
fundamental rights, including the right to unionize. That is, joining a union is a
right. The Covid-19 crisis has already affected the most vulnerable, and they
should not be negatively affected by measures to accelerate a recovery that is
focused solely on economic indicators. Or rather, here we also need a reform of
the economic system, a deep reform of the economy. The way of advancing the
economy must be different, it must also change.
In this moment of reflection, in which 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 a virus even worse than Covid-19: that of selfish
indifference. In other words, a society cannot progress by discarding. This virus
spreads by thinking that life is better if it is better for me, and that everything
will be fine if it is fine for me, and so we begin and end by selecting one person
in place of another, discarding the poor, sacrificing those who have been left
behind on the so-called “altar of progress”. It is a truly elitist dynamic, of
building up new elites at the cost of discarding many people and many peoples.
Looking to the future, it is fundamental that the Church, and therefore the action
of the Holy See with the International La-bour Organization, support measures
that correct unjust or incorrect situations that condition labour relations,
completely subjugating them to the idea of “exclusion”, or violating the
fundamental rights of workers. A threat is posed by 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 comes under the laws of competition and the survival
of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence,
masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work,
without possibilities, without any means of escape” (Evangelii Gaudium , 53).
The current pandemic has reminded us that there are no differences or
boundaries between those who suffer. We are all fragile and, at the same time,
all of great value. Let us hope what is happening around us will shake us to our
core. The time has come to eliminate inequalities, to cure the injustice that is
undermining the health of the entire human family. Faced with the Agenda of the
International Labour 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 businesses as a
flagrant injustice that gave carte blanche and means to capital. He said that:
“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” (Quadragesimo Anno , n. 55). Even in those circumstances, the Church
promoted the position that the wage for work done must be intended not only to
satisfy workers’ immediate and current needs, but also to open the ability of
workers to safeguard their families’ future savings or investments that can
ensure a margin of security for the future.
Thus, since the first session of the International Conference, the Holy See has
supported a uniform regulation applicable to work in all its different aspects, as a
guarantee for workers. (Cf. Letter “Noi rendiamo grazie ” from Pope Leo XIII to
His Majesty Wilhelm II, of 14 March 1890) It is its conviction that work, and
therefore workers, can count on guarantees, support and reinforcement if they
are protected from the “game” of deregulation. Moreover, legal norms must be
geared towards the growth of employment, dignified work and the rights and
duties of the human person. These are all necessary means for his or her
well-being, for integral human development and for the common good.
The Catholic Church and the International Labour Organization, responding to
their different natures and functions, can continue to implement their respective
strategies, but they can also continue to seize the opportunities that arise to
collaborate in a wide variety of important actions.
In order to promote this common action it is necessary to understand work
correctly. The first element of this understanding invites us to focus the
necessary attention on all forms of work, including non-standard forms of
employment. Work goes beyond what is traditionally known as “formal
employment” and the Decent Work Agenda must include all forms of work. The
lack of social protection for workers in the informal economy and for their
families makes them particularly vulnerable to clashes, since they cannot rely on
the protection offered by social insurance or social assistance regimes aimed at
poverty. Women in the informal economy, including street vendors and domestic
workers, feel the impact of Covid-19 from various standpoints, from isolation to
extreme exposure to health risks. As there are no accessible day-care centres,
the children of these workers are exposed to an increased health risk because
their mothers must take them to the workplace or leave them at home
unattended. Therefore, it is particularly 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 yearn
for freedom, justice and equality among all human beings: “Even though
significant advances have been made in the recognition of women’s rights and
their participation in public life, in some countries much remains to be done to
promote those rights. Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think
particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes
subjected, domestic violence and the various forms of enslavement…. I think …
of their lack of equal access to dignified work and roles of decision-making”
(Amoris Laetitia , n. 54).
The second element for a correct understanding of work: if work is a
relationship, then it must include the dimension of care, because no relationship
can survive without care. Here we are not just referring to the work of
assistance: the pandemic reminds us of its fundamental importance, which
perhaps we have overlooked. Care goes further; it must be a dimension of all
work. Work that does not take care, that destroys Creation, that endangers the
survival of future generations, does not respect the dignity of workers and
cannot be considered decent. On the contrary, work that cares, that contributes
to the restoration of full human dignity, will help to ensure a sustainable future
for future generations. (Cf. Care is work, work is care, Report of “The future of
work, labour after Laudato Si’ project”) And this dimension of care involves, first
and foremost, the workers. In other words, a question we can ask ourselves in
our daily lives: how does a business, for example, take care of its workers?
In addition to a correct understanding of work, emerging from the current crisis
in better conditions will require the development of a culture of solidarity, to
combat the throwaway culture that is at the root of inequality and that afflicts
the world. To achieve this goal it will be necessary to accord value to the
contribution of all those cultures, such as indigenous ones, popular ones, which
are often considered mar-gi-nal, but that keep alive the practice of solidarity,
that “express much more than a few sporadic acts of generosity”. Every people
has its own culture, and I think it is time to permanently free ourselves of the
legacy of the Enlightenment, which associated the word ‘culture’ with a certain
type of intellectual formation and social belonging. Every people has its own
culture and we have to accept it as it is. “It means thinking and acting in terms
of community. It means that the lives of all are prior to the appropriation of
goods by a few. It also means combatting the structural causes of poverty,
inequality, the lack of work, land and housing, the denial of social and labour
rights. It means confronting the destructive effects of the empire of money….
Solidarity, understood in its most profound meaning, is a way of making history,
and this is what popular movements are doing” (Fratelli Tutti , n. 116).
With these words I address you, participants in the 109th International Labour
Conference, because as institutionalized actors in the world of work, you have a
great opportunity to influence the processes of change already underway. Your
responsibility is great, but the good you can achieve is even greater. I therefore
invite you to respond to the challenge 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 upon to remain open to
the dynamism of society and to promote the emergence and inclusion of less
traditional and more marginalized actors, bearers of alternative and innovative
I ask political leaders and those who work in governments to always seek
inspiration in that form of love that is political charity: “it is an equally
indispensable act of love to strive to organize and structure society so that one’s
neighbour will not find himself in poverty. It is an act of charity to assist
someone suffering, but it is also an act of charity, even if we do not know that
person, to work to change the social conditions that caused his or her suffering.
If someone helps an elderly person cross a river, that is a fine act of charity. The
politician, on the other hand, builds a bridge, and that too is an act of charity.
While one person can help another by providing something to eat, the politician
creates a job for that other person, and thus practices a lofty form of charity that
ennobles his or her political activity” (Fratelli Tutti , n. 186).
I remind businesspeople of their true vocation: to produce wealth in the service
of all. Business activity is essentially “a noble vocation, directed to producing
wealth and improving our world. God encourages us to develop the talents he
gave us, and he has made our universe one of immense potential. In God’s plan,
each individual is called to promote his or her own development, and this
includes finding the best economic and technological means of multiplying goods
and increasing wealth. Business abilities, which are a gift from God, should
always be clearly directed to the development of others and to eliminating
poverty, especially through the creation of diversified work opportunities. The
right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior
principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination
of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use” (Fratelli Tutti , n.
123). Sometimes, in speaking of private property we forget that it is a secondary
right, which depends on this primary right, which is the universal destination of
I call on trade unionists and leaders of workers’ associations not to allow
themselves to be “straitjacketed”, to focus on the real situations of the
neighbourhoods and communities in which they operate, while at the same time
addressing issues related to broader economic policies and
“macro-relationships”. (Cf. Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the 3rd World
Meeting of Popular Movements , 5 November 2016) Even in this historical phase,
the trade union movement faces two major challenges. The first is prophecy,
linked to the very nature of trade unions, to their most genuine vocation. Trade
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 voice to
those who do not have one, denouncing those who would “buy the poor … for a
pair of sandals” as the prophet says (cf. Amos 2:6), exposing the powerful who
trample on the rights of the most vulnerable workers, defending the cause of
foreigners, the least and the rejected. Clearly, when a trade union becomes
corrupt, it can no longer do this, and it transforms into the status of a
pseudo-employer, itself distanced from the people.
The second challenge: innovation. The prophets are sentinels who keep watch
from their observation post. Trade unions must also watch over the walls of the
city of work, like a guard who watches over and protects those inside the city of
work, but who also watches over and protects those who are outside the walls.
Trade unions do not fulfil their fundamental function of social innovation if they
only protect pensioners. This must be done, but it is half of your job. Your
vocation is also to protect those who do not yet have rights, those who are
excluded from work and who are also excluded from rights and from democracy.
(Cf. Pope Francis, Address to Delegates from the Italian Confederation of
Workers’ Unions (cisl), 28 June 2017)
Esteemed participants in the tripartite processes of the International Labour
Organization and of this International Labour Conference, the Church supports
you, she walks beside you. The Church makes her resources available, beginning
with her spiritual resources and her Social Doctrine. The pandemic has taught us
that we are all in the same boat and that only together can we emerge from the
Thank you.