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Holy See 's Address to International Labor Conference

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.

* * *

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 opportunities and advance decent work, both of which still elude too many people.

4. The urgent necessity of creating new jobs is rightly recognized as the first means to prevent discrimination and poverty. With an estimated 195 million men and women unable to find work last year and with 1.4 billion people holding jobs that did not pay enough to lift them above the $2 a day poverty line, the responsibility of the international community and of governments is put to the test to ensure both an enabling economic environment and the availability of decent work.

The Second Global Report on Discrimination under the follow-up to the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work rightly highlights some categories of workers that deserve special attention in the new market circumstances: women still remaining without equal pay for equal work and in need of fairness in career advancement; people with disabilities; the tens of millions of migrants, a major component of productivity in the global economy; young and old workers; people living with HIV and AIDS; working parents searching for better measures to reconcile responsibilities to both work and family; the masses of rural poor without practically any safety net; children forced too early into the labor market.

5. Within this somewhat somber picture, the proposal of a Convention and Recommendation Concerning Work in the fishing sector represents a sign of major progress. It is estimated that some 40 million people worldwide work in the fishing industry; 1.5 million of these are industrial or deep-sea fishers, while the rest are traditional coastal fishers.

The harsh reality of the work environment for fishers, their confined space in the fishing vessels and their vulnerability; their long working hours causing excessive fatigue that can result in serious occupational accidents; the exploitation of children in deep-sea diving who are exposed to injuries and death; and the excessive long periods away from the family; these and similar other considerations have prompted careful negotiations that hopefully will now be brought to conclusion with an additional instrument of protection.

In fact, the proposed Convention and Recommendation can also provide the basis for the elimination of abuse and discrimination inflicted on industrial fishers through the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on distant water vessels within the system of open registry.

Interrelated issues of justice, safety and health demand a concerted response to the legitimate claim by fishers that their rights be protected and that their quality of life be advanced.

Solidarity cannot extend, of course, to permit overfishing or to causing damage to ocean life. Such solidarity should instead help fishers and countries that, due to lack of resources, sell their fishing rights to richer countries with evident threat to the survival of small and coastal fishers and consequent destruction of the fish habitat.

Mr. President,

6. The instruments of protection become the expression of solidarity at a global level, especially for the large number of people without work or without decent work. A simpler lifestyle and a more equitable sharing of the resources of the planet are needed.

The Holy Father Benedict XVI has recently remarked: "It is not possible to continue using the wealth of the poorest countries with impunity, without them also being able to participate in world growth" ("Address to New Ambassadors," June 1, 2007).

The new horizon of the social question is now the world because the human person is at its center as protagonist of an integral development, which is the new name of peace. Through the adoption of Decent Work as a development paradigm for the multilateral system, locally adapted and implemented in Decent Work Country Programs, workers, employers and governments, acting together, can give concrete form to this vision for a better future.

Thank you, Mr. President.

[Text adapted]

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