This year’s celebration of Workers’ Day occurs in a somewhat unique context. A context in which the question of work is more pronounced than ever before. In the last weeks, many of us have experienced a complete change in the way we work. Some are working from home, for some it is impossible to work, and others have ended without a job. Then there are those whose work our society relies on, and whose contribution we cannot do without. 

The situation has made us question what truly is essential in our lives, and what value we are giving those whose work is essential at the moment. We cannot but be especially grateful today for all the healthcare workers, those who are still working to maintain food supplies, keep public spaces clean and our refuse collected, whilst not forgetting those working in law enforcement and civil protection. Surely, many of us have risen to the occasion, showing to be self-giving workers ready to make sacrifices, some bigger than others, for the good of our community. 

We are also mindful of those who have been made redundant in the recent weeks, and who are struggling to make ends meet or preoccupied about their future. On this day we would like to reflect on three points made by Pope Francis during a meeting with workers in Cagliari[1] in 2013, which are still very current today. 

1. Put the person and work at the centre. 

Indeed, the pandemic is resulting in an economic crisis of global dimensions, compared by many to the great depression. The complete halting of several sectors as a prevention to reduce the transmission of the virus has had dire consequences on some economic sectors. As we rush to re-open our economies, and devise new strategies for growth, one must not forget the ethical, spiritual and human dimensions of this. Our focus should be on the person and the common good rather than profit and gain. And to do this, human work is a key, probably the essential key, as the church has insisted for centuries in its social teachings.[2] 

“Work must be guaranteed if there is to be an authentic promotion of the person. This task is incumbent on society as a whole. For this reason we should acknowledge the great merit of those business people who have never stopped working hard in spite of all, investing and taking risks in order to guarantee employment….. In this phase the whole of society, every one of its members, should make every possible effort to ensure that work, which is the source of dignity, be the main concern!” 

2. The Gospel of hope. 

In moments of crisis it is easy to get carried away and lose hope, but Pope Francis insists “Do not let yourselves be robbed of hope!” Comparing hope to embers under the ashes; the Pope insists that through solidarity, we can help each other in blowing on the ashes to rekindle the flame. In his words hope and solidarity can build the world of the future. The hope that carries us onwards should not be confused with optimism, which is simply a psychological attitude. As Pope Benedict XVI puts it, for those who have hope “the dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open.  The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.” (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Spe Salvi,n. 2) 

3. Dignified work for all. 

“A society open to hope is not closed in on itself, in the defence of the interests of the few. Rather it looks ahead from the viewpoint of the common good. And this requires on the part of all a strong sense of responsibility. There is no social hope without dignified employment for all. For this reason, we must “continue to prioritise the goal of access to steady employment for everyone” or its maintenance for everyone (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, n. 32).”

The Pope speaks of “dignified” work, because when there is a crisis and the need is pressing, there is sometimes a tendency to do away with human rights. We tend to justify inhumane work, to sacrifice proper security or respect for rest, celebrations and the family. In situations like these we might be tempted to do away with these essential requirements as well as with a dignified respect for creation. But work cannot be detached from the preservation of creation so that this may be responsibly safeguarded for future generations. “Creation is not a good to be exploited but a gift to look after.” 

In this regard, we recognise and applaud the initiatives taken by Government to offer financial support to those whose livelihoods are jeopardised due to the current crisis. We also applaud the initiative of a number of voluntary organisations who are distributing free meals to individuals and families in need due to the problems this current pandemic is causing, as well as landlords who are giving concessions on rent due. At the same time we also call for a more comprehensive and proactive approach from the Government and other parties involved. This would involve focusing not only on monetary assistance for those already badly hit by the situation but also by exploring longer-term and more sustainable initiatives in the event that the current crisis extends longer than expected and more sectors suffer significant difficulties in being able to maintain their workforce.  

The Pope concluded his speech in Cagliari with the hope that workers emerge from the negative phase together with an attitude of giving freely and of solidarity, which make possible that secure, dignified and steady employment may be guaranteed for everyone. Today, the Justice and Peace Commission appropriates this message and hopes that it will mark our way of recovery as we struggle to get out of this pandemic. 

[1] Address of Pope Francis to workers at Largo Carlo Felice, Cagliari, Sunday, 22 September 2013

[2] See John Paul II, Encyclical Laborem Exercens, n.2