The condition of the worker, his dignity and challenges

A brief reflection on the celebration of Labor Day

Historical context of the emergence of Labor Day

We congratulate the workers and each one of us who carries out any activity, although not materially productive, but which is dignified work. In fact, it can only be said that “work dignifies man”.

International Workers’ Day is a commemorative date dedicated to workers, celebrated annually on May 1st in almost all countries in the world, being a public holiday in many of them.

Celebrated internationally, this date refers to the historic struggle of workers to achieve better working conditions. The tribute dates back to the strike movement promoted by workers on May 1, 1886, when a strike began in the North American city of Chicago with the aim of achieving better working conditions, mainly the reduction of the daily working day, which reached to 5 p.m., to eight p.m. The terrible conditions caused workers to mobilize protests. Accidents and worker health problems were common. During the demonstration there were clashes with the police, which resulted in the arrests and deaths of workers. This event would serve as inspiration for many other demonstrations that would follow. These workers’ struggles culminated in the affirmation of a series of rights, provided for in laws and sanctioned by constitutions, up to the setting of the maximum working day at eight hours, in most industrialized countries.

What does the Bible say about work?

In the Bible we see that work is something good, done by God, so that man could dominate the world. The Lord God placed man in the garden of Eden to care for it and cultivate it. Since then, man has been dedicated to working. Therefore, we are commanded to Work. The Lord said to Adam: “In the sweat of your face you will eat your bread” (Genesis 3:19). Therefore, Adam and Eve worked in the fields to provide for themselves and their children.

What does the Church think about workers and their rights?

Working is an inalienable right granted by God to every human being. “Each person must be able to derive from work the means to support himself and those around him, as well as to provide service to the human community” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2428).

Work plays a fundamental role in people’s lives and in society as a whole. In addition to providing a means of subsistence, it is also a source of personal and professional fulfillment, contributing to self-esteem, self-confidence and a sense of purpose.

In society, work is essential for economic development and sustainable growth. It generates income and wealth, promotes the distribution of resources and increases social well-being. Furthermore, it is responsible for innovation and technological advancement, boosting competitiveness and productivity. Work adds value and purpose to people’s lives.

The defense for the protection of the worker’s dignity in Church documents

The Church’s concern for workers is ancient. In history, the Church has always defended greater humanization in the labor relationship, seeking to ask States to treat workers with dignity, as they are the image and likeness of God, in order to avoid any similarity to slavery. The Church’s greatest concern was crystallized in the Encyclical Rerum Novarum by Leo XIII dated May 15, 1891, published in the context of the invention of the steam engine and the consequent industrial production, which resulted in the mass dismissal of many workers, since the machine could perform work in a short time, which could be done by a larger number of manufacturing workers. The papal document refers to some principles that should be used in the search for justice in social, economic and industrial life, such as better distribution of wealth, state intervention in the economy in favor of the poorest and most unprotected and the charity of employers towards working class.

Some time later, the same concern appears in Pius XII’s Quadragesimo Anno and in the last 40 years in the encyclical Laborem Exercens, on human work, written by Pope John Paul II in 1981. It is one of the celebrations of the ninety years of publication, of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum.

Therefore, Laborem Exercens highlights that work is an essential element in building a more cohesive, fair and culturally rich society. It is through work that people find ways to express their skills and passions, while contributing to the growth and enrichment of their families and societies. This expanded view of the role of work emphasizes the need for policies and practices that not only meet economic needs, but also strengthen family and community ties, promoting a more integrated and culturally diverse society.

The papal document refers to some principles that should be used in the search for justice in social, economic and industrial life, such as better distribution of wealth, state intervention in the economy in favor of the poorest and most unprotected and the charity of employers towards working class.

What are the main difficulties faced by workers in the job market?

  • Work, in many situations, is not valued. Alongside this, we also come across situations that denounce slave labor. Long working hours and low pay, especially in foreign companies in our region.
  • Terrible salaries and consequently poor quality of life.
  • Remuneration often does not cover the basic needs of decent food, clothing and housing. Consequently, the worker is unable to support his household, nor does he have any investment left to pay for his children’s education.
  • Can’t save or save money. Alongside this, galloping inflation weakens the economy and families.
  • High unemployment rate. With the economic crisis faced by the countries, many people ended up losing their jobs. Studies show that unemployment increases problems related to workers’ physical and mental health, increasing the demand for professional services linked to this area. There is also evidence that violence and crime, in general, are directly related to unemployment. That’s why many young people are always willing and ready to wage war, because they have nothing to do. For them, war should serve as a pastime or a form of occupation.
  • Companies that can employ you always ask for a certificate of professional experience. And how to acquire professional experience, if many are looking for their first job? Another challenge for young people.
  • Many young people are victims of harassment in order to get a job, especially women.
  • Terrible hygiene, safety and health conditions in workplaces, especially in mining and extractive industry companies. And the worker cannot complain, to safeguard his position and source of livelihood, although precarious.
  • Unjustified dismissals and lack of compensation or compensation in the event of dismissals.
  • Flight of workers to more promising European and American markets (especially by young people). And when the young population flees a country, the hope of economic growth is reduced, as they (the youth) are the productive layer of society. However, let us not lose sight of the fact that this labor emigration entails another risk for workers, which is the trafficking of human organs. Because the lure of flourishing job markets is bait for this business.
  • Young people lack hope and confidence in the performance of their country’s leaders to improve their standard of living. Levels of corruption, patronage, nepotism and favoritism undermine competition. Many times what stands out most is not the commitment, but the militancy.
  • The industrial sector is almost inactive, as our countries are more consumers than producers. The consumer goods in the basic basket come from Western countries and recently also from the Middle East.
  • Riches (diamond, oil, gas, wood, etc.) are being exported to enrich the already strong economies of the West and America.
  • Many of our leaders, despite diverting public money for personal enrichment, commit the most tragic thing. They deposit it in foreign banks instead of keeping it in the national market, to create jobs.
  • In most of our countries, banks do not grant credit, especially subsidized credit, and if they do grant it, they do so to those who belong to those who govern or members of the party in power.

What should workers do if their rights or dignity are harmed?


This right is enshrined in almost all State Constitutions. The strike is the legitimate means of complaining about violated rights. It is basically a collective action carried out voluntarily by workers, whether unionized or not, to totally or partially interrupt their duties at their jobs. It is up to workers to define the scope of interests to be defended through strike. The right to strike is inalienable. Strikers have the right to use peaceful means to persuade or entice workers to join the strike. Unfortunately, many workers who exercise their right to strike are repressed, arrested, tortured, mistreated and even killed nowadays.

Causes of strike: Low wages, poor hygiene and health conditions, inadequate facilities or insufficient benefits are some of the reasons that can lead workers to strike. However, termination of employment contracts during the strike is prohibited, as is the hiring of replacement workers. This is the law.

Notes and contributions from the participants

The Church has always defended greater dignity in the treatment given to workers, in the sense of more wages compatible with the worker’s current needs, more humanization, contributions to Social Security, to allow the enjoyment of a retirement pension, after reaching working age, etc. However, within our ecclesiastical institutions, how do we treat our workers? Do we safeguard the dignity demanded of Governments and companies? The Church cannot escape its responsibility as an employer either.

On the other hand, we need to reflect more on the dignity of women and their leadership abilities alongside men, whether in society, in employing institutions, or in the Church.

With pleasure I end my presentation, encouraging all workers around the world, committed to fighting for their dignity and rights and all those who honestly seek their livelihood.