at the General Debate of the Sixty-first Session
of the Commission for Social Development
“Creating full and productive employment and decent work for all
as a way of overcoming inequalities to accelerate the recovery f
rom the COVID-19 pandemic and the full implementation
of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”
New York, 6-15 February 2023
The Holy See is pleased to participate in this 61st Session of the Commission for Social Development and welcomes this year’s priority theme.
The world of work is undergoing a serious crisis. In part, this is due to fundamental and structural changes resulting from the growing global economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and cyclical financial instability.
Unfortunately, as we can easily observe, work is no longer seen as an expression of the human person: a means that allows women and men to use their unique talents for their personal realization, while contributing to society and social development. Rather, work is often regarded as a “simple commodity or an impersonal element of the apparatus for productivity.” In today’s logic, work is not for the human person, but the human person is for work. This inversion of the order between means and ends has led to a reductive anthropological vision in which the inherent dignity of the human person is subordinated to and made conditional on levels of productivity. This has become a fertile ground for the proliferation of a “throwaway culture” in the world of work.
For instance, middle-aged and older persons, who are assumed to have lower learning ability and productive capacities compared to other age groups, face unjust discrimination that undermines the dignity both of their work and of them as workers. This comes to the fore in all aspects of work, including searching for job opportunities, application and hiring processes, the work experience itself, and opportunities after retirement.
Moreover, older persons who reach retirement age are sometimes left with no other choice than to continue to participate in the workforce or to turn to the informal economy, as the lack of adequate social protection makes retirement unaffordable. As a result, older persons are deprived of the opportunity to “enjoy the rest deserved and to offer wisdom and advice to the younger generations.”
The situation is not much easier for young people either. In many regions of the world, including developed countries, young people experience growing rates of unemployment or, when they do work, they face high job and income insecurity. In too many cases, young people are among those who bear the most severe consequences of changing labor and employment relationships, structures and methodologies that are increasingly temporary in nature. In this regard, apprenticeships, while they represent valuable opportunities for young women and men to acquire new skills and experience, can easily become a source of greater socio-economic instability, especially when they are used as stratagems to hire cheap labor.
The constant search for new ways to cut labor costs without adequate concern being shown for the grave consequences on the life and well-being of workers is another manifestation of the contemporary tendency to reduce workers to means of production, exploited for profit maximization. This often results in inadequate wages, long hours, and insecure contracts that lack social protection benefits, especially for unemployment, maternity, disability, and illness.
In other cases, workers who are covered by social protection benefits, de facto experience discrimination when they avail themselves of such benefits.
Particularly concerning is the work reality that many women face when they decide to become mothers and build a family. Too often pregnancy and motherhood remain a source of disadvantage at work or even a reason for women to be dismissed or not hired at all. There is an urgent need to recognize and respect the equal rights of women in the labor market, to value the tasks they carry out in their professional life, while also keeping in mind their aspirations within the family and within society as a whole. No woman should ever be forced to choose between family and work.
Another acute symptom of the exploitative culture that characterizes most of today’s economies is child labor. This is a violation of human dignity, endangers children’s physical and mental well-being, and deprives them of their fundamental human right to education and to live their childhood with joy and serenity. Extreme poverty, lack of work opportunities, and the resulting desperation in families are among the factors that expose children to labor exploitation and even the scourge of human trafficking. Therefore, ending child labor requires eradicating poverty, correcting the distortions in the current economic systems, and creating opportunities for decent work with fair wages that enable families to meet their needs without their children being forced to work.
Addressing the many challenges that pervade the world of work requires an in-depth reconsideration of the true foundation of the value and dignity of work. This includes identifying labor policies that promote integral human development while advancing economic growth. The remedy to the distorted vision of the human person from which those challenges derive should be sought in an ethical approach that puts the human person and human dignity at the center of labor policies.
This should translate, first, into strengthened efforts to build nationally appropriate social protection systems that are adequate, comprehensive, and sustainable, including nationally defined social protection floors that guarantee at least a basic level of social security for all workers, irrespective of their employment arrangements.
Moreover, policies and programs designed to stimulate employment and economic growth must always respect and promote the fundamental rights of workers, especially the right to a just wage, the right to rest, the right to a working environment and to manufacturing processes which are not harmful to the workers’ physical health or to their moral integrity, the right to appropriate subsidies that are necessary for the subsistence of unemployed workers and their families, the right to a pension and to insurance for old age, sickness, and in case of work-related accidents, and the right to social security connected with maternity and paternity.
Finally, it is essential to invest in family-oriented social protection policies, since the family is the fundamental unit of society and, for many people around the world, especially in the poorest regions, the only source of social protection.
A renewed ethics of the common good and respect for the inherent and transcendent dignity of every human person are necessary to reshape labor markets in a way that promotes both economic growth and integral human development. The recognition that “the human person is the measure of the dignity of work” should form the basis for policy-making capable of both tackling the structural inequalities of today’s global economy and restoring the authentic meaning of work, so that all women and men can make the most of their talents and put them at the service of society as a whole in advancing social development.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 271.
 Pope Francis, Address to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See, 9 January 2023.
 Pope Francis, Address to the Personnel of the National Institute of Social Security (INPS), 2015.
 Cf. Pope Francis, Address to Participants in the International Conference “Eradicating child labor, building a better future,” 19 November 2021.
 Cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 301.
 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 271.