May Day in India: justice and mercy in the workplace
by Nirmala Carvalho

Mgr Oswald Lewis heads the Labour Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. He spoke about workers’ conditions, many of whom are unorganised, without health insurance or social security. He stressed the need to eliminate child labour.


New Delhi (AsiaNews) – May Day celebration this year “is all the more important as the universal Church celebrates the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy,” said Mgr Oswald Lewis, bishop of Jaipur and president of the Labour Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), in a message to mark the annual event.

Noting that, in the workplace, “justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive”, he told AsiaNews that his commission is actively involved on behalf of India’s children.

In fact, “Jesus had a great love of children,” he said, and Pope Francis’ “special love for children is another source of inspiration”. Indeed, in this Jubilee year, the Catholic Church in India is working hard on “eradicating child labour” in all its forms, uttering an “absolute no to child labour”.

With this mind, the prelate called for a “revolution of tenderness’ yesterday, International Worker’s Day. Citing paragraph n. 2401 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he said, “The seventh commandment,” ‘You shall not steal’, “commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men's labour”.  In the Year of Mercy, this “compels us to demand justice for the sake of the poor".

Echoing what Pope Francis said in his visit to the Astalli Centre in September 2013, the bishop said that the Church, but also the authorities, must “ensure that no one ever needs a soup kitchen, makeshift lodgings, [or] legal aid in order to have his or her legitimate rights recognised in order to live and work, to be fully a person”.

God’s mercy finds expression, according to Mgr Lewis, in the recognition of “the dignity of labour by providing just wages and social security”.

Turning to domestic work, including in episcopal sees, he noted, “Justice must be the primary concern backed by mercy and charity when it comes to paying just wages, as well as granting holidays, rest and facilities to our domestic workers.”

This means respect for “all our workers” and recognition of their “human dignity”, seeing “the face of Jesus in all of them”. Thus, “they must be enrolled in social security schemes as well as old age pensions and health care plans.”

Above all, it is necessary to “Make sure that no child is employed in our institutions”, and show “special concern to migrant workers”

As for unorganised workers, the prelate said that the Indian Church has been pushing for a social safety net.

Unorganised labourers represent 94 per cent of India’s 465 million workers without formal contracts. Of these, “79 per cent belong to the poorest category of people, those who without social security and in miserable and unhygienic conditions”.

The problem is that India does not have “a coherent, universal system.” Instead, it has “a large number of individual schemes that were introduced piecemeal, and [. . .] are administered and operated by a range of different government departments” at the level of the “federal, state, and local governments”.

This has led to the dispersion of energy with, in some cases, service delivery entrusted to private or semi-government agencies.

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