Australian Catholics are being encouraged to consider the challenges migrant workers face, in particular during a pandemic, as the Church marks the feast of St Joseph the Worker.

In his message for the feast, observed each year on May 1, Bishop Vincent Long van Nguyen OFM Conv reflected on the fact that St Joseph himself was forced to flee to another country.

‘Have you ever imagined St Joseph as a migrant worker?’ Bishop Long asks.

‘What would it have been like for him trying to find work in a foreign land to support his family? Would anyone help them, or would these ‘outsiders’ be exploited or left to fend for themselves?’

Bishop Long, who serves as chair of the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service, said some employers have been shown to take advantage of foreign workers. He said it would be naïve to think such practices don’t happen in Australia.

‘Before the pandemic, over a million overseas workers on temporary visas came to Australia each year,’ he explained.

‘Even in the best of times, temporary seasonal workers are more vulnerable to exploitative working conditions than workers who have Australian citizenship.’

That often arises due to a misunderstanding or ignorance of workers’ entitlements. Regardless of how it might arise that migrant workers are not treating justly, others have a responsibility to look out for brothers and sisters who are mistreated, Bishop Long said.

As he did to open his message, Bishop Long issues some challenging questions to readers at the end of the St Joseph the Worker reflection.

‘Can we see in the faces of temporary seasonal workers the face of St Joseph, seeking work in a foreign land, trying to support his family?’ he asks.

‘Can we see migrant workers as our sisters and brothers in need of our care? Can we welcome them into our homes, communities and churches and defend their dignity and rights?’