Workers’ Day, May 1st every year all over the world, necessary calls for an evaluation of work, workers and working conditions all around the world. This is because work is one indispensable resource by which God made man and by which man sustains the world. We are told that after all the work, God saw that what he had done was good. For this reason, we know that there is dignity in work and work is really love made visible. It is thus befitting to congratulate workers on this day to congratulate all who provide work and do the same to all who provide the conducive environment in which work can be done. Important and fundamental though work is, however, too many factors deny millions of workers of the joy and fulfilment which they should derive from the work they do. Regrettably today, conflicts, discrimination, unjust structures, scarcity of jobs, bad management and greed hamper the integral human development that work ought to bring to individuals, families and society. This, to say the least, is unfortunate and deserves urgent attention.
Integral human development, the ideal of all humanity, will remain a mirage if contentious issues concerning work are not resolved. The Catholic Church teaches that just wages are a legitimate fruit of work. It can be a grave injustice to withhold or refuse it. “Remuneration for Work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social and cultural levels…”.
Governments and people cannot honestly desire peace or authentic development without ensuring just wages for work done. The exploitation of others or their resources, forcing down prices of raw materials, inhospitable conditions of work, unjustly taking over the property belonging to others or the like, impugning human dignity, damaging social trust and offending the moral law of God. Conversely, at the personal level workers too must do just work for the wages they receive in order to fulfil the social contract and in order not to be guilty of dishonesty and stealing.
The Catholic Church has always taught that there is dignity in labour and that work is a vocation with a spiritual dimension. Every worker in some way participates in the divine project of advancing the work of creation. According to Pope Francis, on May 1st, each year, the feast of St Joseph the Worker, is the day the Church remembers the world of labour. On that day the Church demands “that work be dignified everywhere and for everyone,” and that the work of men and women everywhere “inspire the will to develop an economy of peace all over the world.” The Church also prays for all those who in the course of their work have lost life, limbs, and property in the course of their work, especially victims of corrupt and unjust systems, that their sacrifice be not allowed to pass in vain.
In Nigeria, the condition of most workers remains pathetic. Government insensitivity to the plight and demands of workers like doctors, nurses, teachers, journalists, and security agencies is nothing short of cruel, especially when compared to politicians’ remunerations. This, sadly affects the entire masses who rely on the services which those workers provide. In fact, working conditions in both the public and private sectors yearn for serious and urgent overhauling. Nigeria, so to speak, needs a moral blood transfusion. Nevertheless, with the imminent dispensation, employers and employees must embrace a new “regime of merit” and rebuild the crumbling labour fortress. Only a just relationship driven by dialogue and sensitivity can guarantee an escape from the quagmire of resentment and suspicion which currently characterizes the relationship between employees and employers in the country. With that new hope, it is still pertinent even today to say to all: Happy Workers Day with hope for a brighter future!
Most Rev Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo is the Bishop, the Catholic Diocese of Oyo (www.CatholicDioceseOyo.org)