2022.02.23 illustrazione per articolo su rapporto povertà Caritas Europa

Caritas Europa joins Pope’s call for minimum wage so 'no one is left behind'

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated poverty and exclusion, pushing many, especially vulnerable groups, into unemployment and exploitation. Caritas Europa is calling for the implementation of EU directives on minimum income and other social protection systems to ensure no one is left behind.

By Linda Bordoni

A report released by Caritas Europa charts poverty in Europe focusing on the challenges many people face to access the labour market, particularly due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Entitled “CARES! European poverty report 2021” the report highlights the need for inclusive labour markets to ensure no one is left behind.

One of the issues tackled in the report and in an ensuing dialogue with EU Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, is the need for EU directives on minimum income, a call that was launched by Caritas Europa and partner organizations in November 2020.

It is also an issue highlighted by Pope Francis who has called for the consideration of a Universal Basic Wage “that would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian of no worker without rights.”

The Pope’s call came in a letter written amid the Covid-19 pandemic and addressed to World Popular Movements, and as Shannon Pfohman, Policy and Advocacy Director at Caritas Europa says, the report reveals how the pandemic has further impacted many of those already facing challenges accessing the labour market.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Pfohman explains how legislation on minimum wage would help fight discrimination and empower informal workers, women, migrants and other vulnerable groups.

Listen to the interview with Shannon Pfohman

“The report had a focus on labour market inclusion with some examples of social practices and other initiatives that our member organizations have been carrying out over the years,” but what Caritas Europa identified, Shannon Pfohman says, “is that the situation in Europe had already been changing prior to the pandemic with a gradual erosion in the quality and security of employment.”

Of course, she adds, with the pandemic the situation posed greater structural barriers impacting particular groups of people on the labour market with much higher unemployment rates for different population groups. Groups that Caritas identified as ranging from migrants, Roma people, older workers, non-standard employment and informal workers, persons with disabilities, young people - especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds - and women.

“These were the groups most affected by labour market exclusion and barriers,” she says.

However, Pfohman also highlights the numerous policies being implemented and being proposed to counter the problem, “such as reinforced youth guarantee, the Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion, the EU Action Plan on Antiracism.”

She is particularly hopeful that the “soon-to-be-adopted directives on Adequate Minimum Wages,” will bring a breakthrough.

These are initiatives at the EU level, she notes, that have been implemented or are being discussed to try to address the inequalities and challenges on the labour market.

Unfortunately, she says, “we observed during the pandemic that many important initiatives took second place because people were dealing with so many immediate and basic needs such as “How am I going to feed my family? Where am I going to get enough money to buy groceries? How will I pay for the heating bill and cover the utility costs?”

Never, Pfohman says, did Caritas have so many people in Europe needing its services, and they were people who had not been experiencing long-term employment and poverty for years, but people who had suddenly lost their livelihoods and often their homes.

New directives for a post-pandemic Europe

Caritas, the Policy and Advocacy Director says, is now hopeful that EU member states will agree on a number of initiatives aimed at guaranteeing the rights and dignity of so many workers that keep society running.

She says that one is the adoption of Minimum Wage directives that are currently being discussed between the EU Parliament and Council member states.

“It will be imperative to ensure the inward poverty, that is so common, will end when people are paid a fair salary,” she says.

Along with other Action Plans, she continues, the prioritization of education and the providing of skills to people in situations of vulnerability will improve their active participation in the labour market.

Pfohman also mentions the need for concerted action targeting antiracism, integration and inclusion, especially to address some of the issues of discrimination that are rampant in the labour market,  and largely impacting both the Roma and migrants.

Migrants and the labour market

Migrants, she says, compose “one of the most precarious groups on the labour market because there are often put in jobs that are beneath their qualifications, in part because of discrimination or because their previous degrees and qualifications aren’t being recognized, or because employers are hesitant or reluctant to carry out the administrative tasks necessary for them to get a work permit.”

At Caritas Europa, she adds, “we are hoping that the EU will introduce a framework directive on Minimum Income to ensure that Social Protection Systems are inclusive and accessible to everyone.”

Pope Francis’ call not to leave anyone behind

We believe, Pfohman says, that Pope Francis’ voice is extremely important. “He has been calling for basic income and wage,” she continues, “and this is vital in order to really protect the people who are being left behind, and ensure that it is not just one issue that is going to be advanced upon, but the internal linkage between so many issues will be addressed simultaneously.”

Informal workers

Finally, touching on another issue Pope Francis has often turned his attention to, she highlights the need to increase political will and public investment in labour inspections and judicial institutions in order to enforce existing rules and regulations around informal work.

“There is a reality of employees hiring people but not doing it through regularized means,” Pfohman concludes, “and more needs to change at this level so that those who are doing these essential jobs and are keeping society running, are treated well and are not being the ones punished for being part of a system that takes advantage and exploits them.

23 February 2022, 18:21