ROME — Pope Francis launched an appeal Wednesday on behalf of migrant workers exploited during the coronavirus lockdown.
“On 1st May, I received several messages about the world of work and its problems. I was particularly struck by that of the farm workers, among them many migrants, who work in the Italian countryside,” the pope said via videoconference after his weekly general audience Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, many are very harshly exploited. It is true that the current crisis affects everyone, but people’s dignity must always be respected,” he said.
“That is why I add my voice to the appeal of these workers and of all exploited workers,” the pontiff concluded. “May the crisis give us the opportunity to make the dignity of the person and the dignity of work the centre of our concern.”
The Italian economy has been devastated by the two-month lockdown that was meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but which effectively shut down the economy, destroying the livelihoods of millions of Italians. The national lockdown, imposed even on regions virtually unaffected by the virus, means that able-bodied workers up and down the peninsula have been denied opportunities to provide for themselves.
Businesses in Italy laid off over 3 million workers after the government shuttered all “non-essential” operations and a further three million self-employed workers found themselves without work and with no unemployment benefits.
Italy’s travel, hospitality, and tourism sector, which employs over two million Italians and accounts for some 13 percent of the nation’s GDP, was brought to a complete standstill by the lockdown’s severe regulations.
Even amidst the nation’s cautious reopening of certain businesses during the so-called “phase two” of the lockdown, many remain without work or income. Italy’s health crisis has passed and the total number of positive coronavirus cases has been in daily decline since April 21, but the administration of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has decided to keep the population under strict control.
As Vatican News reported this week, the unprecedented lockdowns have “triggered massive unemployment and economic hardship for millions of people across the globe, and Italy has been one of the worst-affected nations.”
Economic data released in late April showed that Italy is now officially in a recession after its gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 4.7 percent in the first quarter of the year.
This is Italy’s worst economic quarter since 1995, when Eurostat began its monitoring.
Forecasters have estimated that 10 million Italians, a fifth of the total number of adults, will be cast into poverty because of the lockdowns, unable to meet essential expenditures on food, medicines, and shelter.