The bishops of Quebec plead for a “ just recovery ”
The Catholic bishops of Quebec not only want a recovery, they want change.
The annual May 1 message from the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec calls for a basic income, a higher minimum wage, an economy less dependent on fossil fuels, tax reform that redistributes wealth away from the rich and policies that recognize how disadvantaged women have been in our economy.
“Women and young people have been particularly hard hit,” the bishops write in “Towards a Just Recovery: Caring for the Lives of Workers.”
“The ordeal of the COVID-19 pandemic” prompted the bishops to tackle the economic inequalities that have resulted in a 35 to 40 percent increase in the use of food banks in Quebec.
“The first priority of any recovery plan must certainly be to promote a return to work with appropriate working conditions in the sectors which have been particularly affected,” the bishops wrote. “This must include an increase in the minimum wage and attention to the urgent need for paid family and medical leave.”
As governments begin to think about a post-pandemic economy, the bishops especially want them to think about the place of women in the workforce.
“A fair recovery must start from a real recognition of the dignity and work of those – mainly women – on whom our public services depend at all levels,” they declared.
It certainly makes sense to the president of Canada’s largest Catholic union.
“A lot of what we call essential workers – either personal support workers, or working in healthcare, or working in grocery stores quite frankly – are typically women. Often it’s immigrant women, ”said Catholic English Teachers Association of Ontario president Liz Stuart. “Their work was deemed essential and yet not essential enough to actually pay them a living wage, or not essential enough to provide them with paid sick leave.”
Minimum wage, paid sick leave and a basic income may not be the immediate concern of well-paid, unionized teachers, Ms. Stuart said, but her union has long held these issues as a priority, “knowing that we do it from a privileged place. “
David Seljak, sociologist at Saint-Jérôme University, sees the imprint of Saint-Pope John Paul II in his 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens in the May 1 message to Quebec.
“The bishops of Quebec simply took inspiration from it and extended it to the poorest members of society, because it is the people of society who are most at risk of having their dignity ignored or violated.
The tradition of Church thought on work dates back almost 130 years to the revolutionary encyclical of Pope Leo XIII Rerum Novarum. But it gained a new basis in the philosophy of the Polish pope, who taught that work and human dignity cannot be separated, Seljak said.
Seljak finds it both amusing and mystifying that the relaunch of a 40-year-old encyclical by a pope who is now a conservative icon “could strike people as progressive or too progressive.”
But the ideas of John Paul II remain relevant, says Seljak.
“If you ignore the importance of work in a person’s life, you can easily lose them and ignore their dignity,” Seljak said. “A big part of our life is work. It’s not just the eight hour work day, but the work we do at home, at home, the work we do for the family. You take away work, you take away a lot of the person’s life. If you refuse to recognize the dignity of work, you refuse to recognize so much of what makes a human person.
“A recovery that takes into account the dignity of individuals, communities and our common home must be the fruit of a collaborative effort,” the bishops wrote. “We invite parish communities to develop partnerships in their own environment and to actively participate in this collaboration to prepare for the future.