By Matthew Pierre
Community Liaison Officer, CCSJ/AMMR
In our present experience living amidst a Covid-19 pandemic, globally, we can see the importance of having a job, and the impact of unemployment on people—families, businesses, and the economy.
Persons most dependant on employment in society such as single parents, young adults, the poor, the self-reliant, the indebted, the pay cheque-to-pay cheque employee, and the migrant/refugee –who to me have been the most hard-hit demographic in our nation since they do not have the same access to support systems as we do to withstand the storm of economic hardships.
Yet, all these groups risk not only their livelihoods, but also their dignity and sense of purpose/self-worth without the opportunity to work.
People who work or do not work, can gain, or lose their dignity as working becomes an act that dignifies the worker.
What is the value of work? Surely that seems like a straightforward answer: to get money, to pay bills, to buy things. As you continue to dive below the surface of the question, you begin to realise that the value of work is more than a means to an end.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI highlights the divine likeness present in work and says it is the distinction by which man shares in the creative “labour” of the Creator.
Other persons such as Margaret Harper McCarthy, a US editor for Humanum, a publication of the John Paul II Institute explains that work is “an activity which takes nature ‘outside’ itself to serve ‘non-natural’ ends, and which has the worker, subordinate to his activity to something outside of himself, especially when that activity was instrumental to some ulterior need” (not a good for its own sake).
McCarthy believes the worker is “subordinate to his/her activity” for the purpose of the intended outcome. This subordination must always be for the good of the person.
Leela Ramdeen, Chair of the CCSJ has noted that, “Good work promotes the dignity of the human person. Not all work is good such as human/sex trafficking, exploitation of adults and minors; working in mines in dangerous conditions for lengthy hours, forced labour, modern-day slavery.”
With this in mind, we then should advocate for work that, in its various forms, be dignified, oriented to the good of the worker, and accessible to persons in need of work.
A person’s dignity should not be compromised by his/her chosen work activity. It should not infringe on the core values of human beings: Love, Truth, Freedom, and Justice, which form the fabric of social ethics (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2467).
I work with migrants/refugees, and it is a shameful reality that this community has no choice but to settle for lower class, inhumane even degrading work because of their social/political status, to simply survive.
It saddens me to observe the unwillingness by those in authority to enact refugee laws to uphold the dignity and rights of all migrants/refugees, to provide such persons with protection and equality, to no longer be disadvantaged, but able to improve their lives and excel through dignified work, contributing meaningfully to society.
I call on those in authority to consider implementing changes to our laws and practices which protect and prioritise people, their well-being, and their innate value as human beings.
Cardinal Peter Turkson has said, “Where there is no work, there cannot be progress, there cannot be wellbeing and, assuredly, there cannot be a better future. Work, which is not only the commitment but the way by which man fulfils himself in society and in the world, is an essential part in determining integral development, be it of the person or of the community in which he lives.”
What are the current employment numbers in T&T, particularly in light of Covid-19? What opportunities exist for people to re-tool themselves e.g., so they can start businesses? Can businesses assist in this re-tooling process? Can our government share its plans for job-creation, to avoid dependency on handouts? Are we addressing the mismatch between our education system and its interface with the labour market? Are technological changes and permanent shifts in the demand for goods and services on our radar?
Let’s recognise the dignity of work as part of God’s plan to promote integral human development.