ROME (AP) — Pope Francis is championing the right of all workers to unionize, as economic activity is poised to increase when the pandemic threat eases.

The pontiff stressed the needs of the most vulnerable workers, including migrants, in a video message Thursday to participants at a conference organized by the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency based in Geneva.

Francis said efforts to rebuild economies after COVID-19 setbacks must aim at a future with “decent and dignified working conditions,” originating in collective bargaining. He called the “right to organize in unions” one of the fundamental protections for workers.

He lamented that many migrants and vulnerable workers are often excluded from national health plans. During the pandemic, “this exclusion complicates early detection, testing, diagnosis, contact tracing and seeking medical care for COVID-19 for refugees and migrants, and thus increases the risk of outbreaks in these populations,” Francis said.

He noted that women in such roles as street vendors and domestic workers, especially in the underground economy, lack access to day care and thus must bring their children to the workplace or leave them unattended at home.

"Therefore, it must be ensured that social assistance reaches the hidden economy and pays special attention to the particular needs of women and girls,'' Francis said.