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Workers deserve better

May 1 is International Workers’ Day. On this first day of May, a month the Church devotes to Mary, the Mother Church begins by celebrating her husband, Joseph and his economic contribution to the Holy Household. Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker in 1955 in response to the May Day celebrations for workers sponsored by Communists. 
 
Beginning in the Book of Genesis, the dignity of human work has long been celebrated as a participation in the creative work of God. By work, humankind fulfills the command of God to care for the earth (Genesis 2:15). St. Joseph, the carpenter and foster father of Jesus, is the Church’s example of the holiness of human labour.
 
May 1 is particularly significant for China as it is host to the world’s largest workforce in with over 770 million workers at the end of 2016. This workforce is the primary driving force behind the double-digit GDP growth and the rise of China as a world superpower. Its work force contributes so much to the Chinese economy and they need to be acknowledged. 
 
The government of Hong Kong must not miss out on this opportunity to honour the unsung heroes of the city—its working class whose sweat and blood has transformed the city into what it is today. Yet the plight of the middle class and lower-income groups, as well as the migrant workers living in the city show the government lacking. 
 
According to a South China Morning Post report on 21 July 2017, Hong Kong’s total fiscal reserves are closer to $1.8 trillion—not including reserves held separately by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. In layman’s terminology, the city holds about two trillion dollars in reserve, which indeed is the people’s money.  
 
It should be read together with the data showing that the overall poverty rate of Hong Kong stands at 14.3 per cent of the population. Out of the 7.5 million people, 970,000 are poor. Thousands live in ‘coffin cubicles’ and many more spent their nights on the streets and in McDonald’s. The government has an obligation to care for its people, especially when it has the resources in surplus.
 
The Church has its own obligation too—to commit itself to the mission of Christ—to be a home for the homeless and the voice of the voiceless in the world today. We share the same mission of Christ in loving caring and creating a new world. Whether one is household help or the top manager of a company, we are called to bear fruit with our hands and mind, ultimately for the building up of the Body of Christ. 
 
“The Church considers it her task always to call attention to the dignity and rights of those who work, to condemn situations in which that dignity and those rights are violated, and to help to guide (social) changes so as to ensure authentic progress by man and society,” wrote Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical. Laborem Exercens (On Human Work).
 
Let the life of St. Joseph continue to inspire us. Our churches must become a place where all can come together, not just the Catholics, but everyone. And we need to follow Pope Francis’ lead and place concern for human dignity with all its implications, the unborn as well as the refugees, the unemployed as well as the street sleepers, at the forefront of our public witness. jose