Workplaces must be safe for workers, and those workers must be cared for and protected, underscored Pope Francis on Monday morning as he received members of the Italian Association for Injured Workers (ANMIL) in the Vatican.
While applauding the Association for its efforts to promote safety in the workplace and support victims of work accidents and their families, the Holy Father highlighted employers’ great responsibility, while decrying when corners are cut for profit, or when one tries to clear one’s conscience or image with charity work.
Madness of war
Welcoming the ANMIL members on the 80th anniversary of their association, the Pope recalled that 1943 had been a “decisive year” for Italy in the Second World War.
“You took your first steps in that context, which reminds us that every armed conflict brings with it legions of amputees,” the Pope said, lamenting that “even today” this happens, as the “madness of war” causes the civilian population to suffer dramatic consequences.
“Even once conflict is over,” the Pope said “rubble remains,” even “in bodies and hearts,” noting that “peace must be rebuilt day by day, year by year, through the protection and promotion of life and its dignity, starting with the weakest and, beginning with the most disadvantaged.”
Work-related deaths resembling a war bulletin
The Holy Father thanked the workers’ association for drawing attention to the issue of safety in the workplace, “where too many deaths and misfortunes still occur.”
In particular, he praised their initiatives aimed at improving civil legislation on workplace accidents and the rehabilitation of people with disabilities. “Indeed, it is not only a matter of guaranteeing proper welfare and social security care for those suffering from forms of disability,” he said, “but also of giving new opportunities to people who can be reintegrated and whose dignity demands to be fully recognised.”
He also encouraged them to continue raising public awareness of accident prevention and safety policies, particularly in favour of women and young people, as he lamented ongoing tragedies in the workplace, despite technology available to promote safety.
“Sometimes it sounds like a war bulletin,” he said.
Tragedies, he observed, “begin when the goal is no longer man, but productivity, and man becomes a production machine.”
With this in mind, he called their commitment to educating and training workers, employers, and society, “crucial.”
“Safety at work,” he noted, “is like the air we breathe: we realise its importance only when it is tragically lacking, and it is always too late!”
Cannot get used to work accidents
The Pope said, “We cannot get used to accidents at work, nor resign ourselves to indifference towards them.”
“We cannot accept the waste of human life,” he appealed, noting, “Deaths and injuries are a tragic social impoverishment that affects everyone, not just the companies or families involved.”
Pope Francis reiterated the importance of good and enforced legislation, but also the need to coexist properly as brothers and sisters in the workplace.
“One cannot, in the name of greater profit,” the Pope exhorted, “demand too many working hours, decreasing concentration, or think of counting insurance or security demands as unnecessary expenses and loss of earnings.”
Safety at work employer’s first duty
Ensuring safety at work, the Pope said, is an employer’s “first duty,” and expressed disgust “when entrepreneurs or legislators, instead of investing in safety, prefer to wash their consciences with some charity work.”
Employers’ first task, he insisted, “must be caring for their brothers and sisters.”
Workers are not ‘spare parts’
“We are human beings and not machines, unique persons and not spare parts,” the Pope pointed out, saying that regardless, “many times some workers are treated like spare parts.”
Human beings, he underscored, come “before economic interest,” stressing that each person is a gift to the community, and when someone becomes impaired or disabled, it “wounds the entire social fabric.”
“I entrust you to the protection of St Joseph, patron of all workers,” he said.
The Holy Father concluded by entrusting the workers to the protection of St. Joseph, Patron Saint of workers, and the Blessed Mother, and requesting their prayers.