May 6, 2020 / 9:24 AM / 25 days ago

Coronavirus is no excuse to exploit workers, pope says

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis holds weekly general audience virtually from the Library of the Apostolic Palace due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Vatican April 15, 2020. Vatican Media/­Handout via REUTERS

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis said on Wednesday employers must respect the dignity of workers, particularly migrants, despite economic difficulties brought on by the coronavirus crisis.

“It’s true that the crisis is affecting everyone but the dignity of people must always be respected,” Francis said at the end of his general audience, held from the papal library instead of St Peter’s Square because of the lockdown in Italy.

He said he had received numerous messages about labour problems on May 1, the day most countries celebrate workers’ rights.

Francis said he wanted to defend “all exploited workers and I invite everyone to turn the crisis into an occasion where the dignity of the person and the dignity of work can be put back at the centre of things.”

He made particular mention of the exploitation of farmworkers in Italy, most of whom are migrants.

In recent weeks, there has been a series of arrests in Italy of farm owners and gangmasters who recruit and supervise field workers. The gangmasters were in most cases also migrants.

Last week, three farm owners and a Gambian migrant were arrested on charges of exploiting about 50 migrant farmworkers in the southern Puglia region.

In another recent case, three Albanians who worked as gangmasters for a winery in northern Italy were arrested on charges of forcing migrants to work for up to 10 hours a day without a break and paying them low wages.

Reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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