Intervention of the Holy See for the
2012 ECOSOC Annual Ministerial Review
“Promoting productive capacity, employment and decent work
to eradicate poverty in the context of inclusive, sustainable and equitable economic growth
at all levels for achieving the MDGs”
New York, 6 July 2012
With global unemployment since 2007 having increased by some 27 million, according to the Secretary General’s report, and with further unemployment projected to remain in coming years, this year’s focus on productive capacity and decent work to eradicate poverty and hunger is extremely timely.
In his report, the Secretary General calls for the United Nations system and governments to reaffirm the Philadelphia Declaration of 1944 and its recognition that “human labor is not a commodity”. It is a welcome contribution as human labor is far more than merely a source of sustainable development, economic growth and poverty reduction; rather, it is first of all a fundamental right and a good for humanity which provides individuals with the ways and means to express and enhance human dignity.
Human work must be considered “as a fundamental right of all human beings… in such a way that the living standard of the workers in the different societies will less and less show those disturbing differences which are unjust and are apt to provoke even violent reactions. The International Organizations have an enormous part to play in this area. They must let themselves be guided by an exact diagnosis of the complex situations and of the influence exercised by natural, historical, civil and other such circumstances. They must also be more highly operative with regard to plans for action jointly decided on, that is to say, they must be more effective in carrying them out” (John Paul II, Laborem exercens, n.18).
The value of work is not simply something which provides for the needs of the individual but, by its very nature, is something essential to integral human development and the common good of the human family. The fundamental value of work is bound up with the dignity of the human person.
In addition, work constitutes a foundation for the formation of family life, which is a natural right. Work provides the means necessary to found and support a family, and provides the means for realizing the right to property and contributing to the social life of the community.
The significance of work for the promotion of long term peace and integral human development is of utmost importance when considering its contribution to the family. Work is the condition which makes establishing a family possible, for it is the means by which the family is maintained and supported while, at the same time, the family is the primary source of support for those without employment. Policies must therefore be oriented towards not solely the right of workers to a just wage but also towards the supporting of the family and the balance between work and family responsibilities so that workers are able to fulfill their responsibilities as both parents and providers.
Persistent unemployment, therefore, is a social injustice which undermines freedom and stifles the creativity of the human person and is a cause of great psychological and spiritual suffering. Economic policies, if they are to address the persistence of unemployment, underemployment and lack of decent work, must be directed towards the objective of full employment for all people capable of engaging in labor. Economic policies which fail to provide the environment for satisfactory levels of employment or actively thwart the right to work cannot be justified from an ethical point of view and risk undermining the attainment of long-term peace in society. In this process, we must recognize that the duty of the State to guarantee the right to work is not one which requires absolute control of the employment sector but rather which provides the conditions necessary for job creation and sustaining employment opportunities.
In order to achieve full-employment we must recognize the vital role of education and skills training for all people. In a rapidly changing globalized economy, education and technical skills training should not end at a young age but should be provided throughout their lives so that they are more capable of responding to the unpredictable changes in employment. These educational efforts provide not only the skills necessary to adapt to economic changes but also the necessary spiritual, social and psychological support required to assist individuals in overcoming the challenges of unemployment or economic instability.
While addressing the challenges of unemployment and ensuring full-employment for all, we must work to ensure that the rights of the employed are also respected and upheld. Juridical and economic systems must recognize and respect the rights of workers: to a just wage, to life and subsistence, to rest, to safe working environment, to personal conscience and moral integrity, to pension, to unemployment support for workers and their families, to social security for maternity, and to assemble and to form associations. In addition, governmental and private actors must work to ensure that the rights of women and children are respected and that the rights enjoyed by nationals are also guaranteed to migrants, regardless of migration status.
On 1 May 2000 Pope John Paul II issued an appeal for the creation of a global coalition in favour of “decent work.” In his Encyclical, Caritas in veritate, Pope Benedict XVI defined decent work as work which “expresses the essential dignity of every man and woman in the context of their particular society: work that is freely chosen, effectively associating workers, both men and women, with the development of their community; work that enables the worker to be respected and free from any form of discrimination; work that makes it possible for families to meet their needs and provide schooling for their children, without the children themselves being forced into labor; work that permits workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard; work that leaves enough room for rediscovering one's roots at a personal, familial and spiritual level; work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living” (Ibid., 63).
In conclusion, full-employment and decent work for all remains fundamentally a moral concern which requires enhanced cooperation and understanding between all sectors of society. In a world in which economic activity affects all corners of the globe we must recognize that solidarity between all countries and peoples to ensuring that the ends of work are not limited to merely economic prosperity but contribute to authentic human development and the common good of all people.
Thank you Mr. President.