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Holy See 's Address to International Labor Conference

7/1/2007 - 3:10 PM PST

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GENEVA, JULY 01, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the June 13 text of an intervention by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer at the United Nations at Geneva, during the 96th session of the International Labor Conference.

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Mr. President,

1. Even today, the pursuit of social justice remains a most challenging ideal and an operational task for the International Labor Organization (ILO) as it continues to develop up-to-date standards and to influence policy in the world of work within the evolving global economy. In this regard, the delegation of the Holy See acknowledges shared objectives with the ILO. It fully supports the combined action of workers, employers and governments to make decent work for sustainable development a collective goal within the international community as well as a priority in national programs.

Much of the restlessness and many of the conflicts that torment our society are rooted in the lack of jobs, in employment which lacks decent work conditions or living wages, and in unjust economic relations. The timely agenda of this conference rightly addresses old and new forms of discrimination, social protection, the new context of work and its impact on individual workers and their families, and related themes.

In fact, work, enterprise and the global arena of financial investments, trade and production should be rooted in a creative, cooperative and rule-based effort at the service of the human person, of every man and woman, and of their equal dignity and rights. It is the human dimension of work that needs to be valued and protected; moreover, an enabling environment must be created so that personal talents are invested for the common good.

2. In recent years changes have been brought about in the fields of economy, technology and communications that have transformed the face of work and the conditions of the labor market, at times in dramatic ways. Obviously, the international system is evolving under the weight of an aging population in some regions, of outsourcing, of the gap between needed skills and an educational system still incapable of preparing people with skills to meet such demands, of the search for balance between fair policy space and an effective multilateralism, of the demand for greater flexibility and mobility.

One emerging tendency appears to favor more individualistic relations between enterprise and employees. These latter would protect their own rights on the base of their skills and entrepreneurial ability. These developments may be calling on us to rethink current forms of solidarity. Although workers may no longer find themselves in physical proximity with each other, solidarity remains crucial and indispensable if founded on our common humanity that links all types of work.

In turn, "through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes 'more a human being.'" (John Paul II, "Laborem exercens," 9). In a way, the world of labor has overturned the old practice: Now work tends to take precedence over capital and real wealth is found in the knowledge, in the human and relational capacities of workers, in their creativity and ability to confront new situations.

At the same time, even in the face of such new approaches to work, exploitation is possible in the form of overwork, excessive flexibility and stiff competition that make family life and personal growth impossible.

3. The new globalized context of work makes it evident that a person working with and for other persons progressively reaches out to the whole human family. Through his work a person is opened to an increasingly universal dimension and, in this way, can "humanize" globalization and thus, by keeping the human person at the center of this process, can provide an ethical measure against its negative aspects.

Therefore the universalization of labor standards should not be considered a burden on trade agreements but rather a concrete support for the human rights of workers and a condition for more equitable competition on the global level. At the same time this universalization will not leave workers and their families only at the "mercy" of economic forces beyond the control of national policies.

The mechanisms needed to implement such an approach can vary from special international funds for the protection of workers to a normative, incremental application of standards and, in this way, can promote and carry on the historical achievement of organized labor.

As the world is confronted with a globalization that increases wealth but is not equitable in its distribution, social goals cannot be left out of the picture. A policy of convergence between social and economic policies seems better suited to stimulate the creation of new employment ...

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