On the weekend of February 26–28, the nation was engrossed in the unfolding tragedy in south Trinidad with the four divers who lost their lives when sucked into an undersea pipeline.
The outpouring of sympathy and support, incredulity and shared frustration with the families as they waited for some kind of urgent action to rescue the men indicated that, despite the division that rears its head, all is not lost for inculcating a culture of caring.
On the technical Health and Safety violations that may have occurred, we cannot comment, and can only hope that the investigations which have begun would be both unbiased and clear in how this could have been avoided, and so other workers can feel assured that their safety is priority.
We can, however, plead with all of those in leadership roles to step back and consider how their employees are treated.
Of note in the entire situation was the apparent lack of a human response of the organisation, Paria, to the families in their pain. By all accounts, from the families themselves, they were not treated with the fundamentals of communication or empathy.
The company said they provided counselling services. Evidently, there is a gap of perception in what was needed at the point in time, and what was provided. The human impact was not adequately provided for.
The Catholic Church has promulgated, without fail, the consistent message of the dignity of the human being. All human life is sacred and the recognition of the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This is not just a lesson applicable to migrants, refugees, and the poor, but should be at the heart of every organisation, school (governmental and denominational), and personal and professional relationships.
In January 2022, Pope Francis in his address to the Italian National Association of Building Contractors, said, “Unfortunately, if you look at workplace safety as a cost, you are starting from the wrong assumption. The real wealth is the people.”
Workplace safety is but one facet of consideration; mental well-being, a living wage, space to grow, a hospitable work environment that encourages dialogue and listens rationally to the concerns of employees, can create a positive environment for productivity.
Employees too need to bring a proper work ethic to the organisation.
Nationally, the gap of need and provision in creating the culture of caring through recognising human sacredness is manifest in the frightening levels of gender violence and crime. It is a complex, multifaceted issue, but at its core, is absence and perhaps active neglect.
Again, Catholic Social Teaching points the way forward. Catholic tradition teaches that “human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met….every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities—to one another, to our families, and to the larger society” (Justice, Peace and Human Development Office, US Catholic bishops).
The lack of mutual responsibility creates dangerous spaces for negatives to thrive and which, in the long run, has a centrifugal effect: an ever-widening force. The pandemic brought to the fore quite forcefully how connected we all are. Imagine an alternate scene, but with the action of care at centre. National anger, at the moment of injustice, shows that we are not an uncaring country; we simply need to use that lens in every encounter and sphere.