HomeCommentaryOn the rights of labor

On the rights of labor

This is the third part of the series “A Formidable Theology of Human Work”
Read the first part here: A formidable theology on human work: On the essence of labor
Second part: On the observed situation of labor

The organization of work must be such that a worker can and should obtain what is needed for a life in accordance with human dignity, the rights to which must not be unjustly diminished or violated because of its perceived dependence on the state of a country and its economy. 

The organization of work may also be reconstructed to allow and to empower workers with the privilege to participate in the corporate governance of production, and in the statutory regulation of its social relationships.  The labor sector is highly encouraged to be conscientiously involved in the company employing them, and in the government safeguarding their welfare, concerning the issues and affairs that may have significant impact on their interests.

All the pontiffs are generally unanimous in their contention that workers’ rights must be respected and protected as much as possible regardless of the gloom and uncertainty of its economic conditions.  They are seriously aware and admonishing that in the event of an economic tragedy in which no citizen is spared, Christian charity demands that the privileged must contemplate to willfully come to the aid of the underprivileged to ensure at the minimum the survival of these helpless multitudes, just as they are fighting for theirs, through a dutiful self-taxation from their own excesses.  At the most, they have been consistent in their non-confrontational stance of calling less for a revolution against the rich and powerful, than for a revolution of change in their hearts.

Right to a just wage – A just wage has been consistently characterized as the amount of remuneration for work that can sufficiently support the worker and his / her family.  Needless to say, the problem of an inadequate wage is a concern that has immediate impact on almost every worker, and hence an issue that has always been raised in many social commentaries.   

However, the Popes have hinted that the problem of injustice towards workers – embodied oftentimes in the clamor for appropriate wages – may be much larger and deeper than one would suppose.  According to the holy Fathers, employers themselves may be under the same oppressive socio-economic burdens imposed from without, and that enterprises even if it were not their desire to do so, may actually be rendered incapable of guaranteeing workers’ rights. 

Right to form and join labor associations – Labor associations are basically formed and instituted for the legitimate representation of workers to assert and secure the fulfillment of their rights.  Such associations can either be groups assembled among employees working within the same enterprise or industry; or groups of laborers practicing the same trade, skill or profession.  The former grouping is what many today would be referring to as a “union” whereas the latter grouping is what many have called in centuries past as a “guild”. 

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Unions are presently well known for functioning as negotiating agents for its members who are normally engaged in secure employment arrangements, and aiming to stabilize or obtain the best possible conditions of such arrangements.  Guilds on the other hand, used to be comprised of independent craftsmen, but were much more notable for their major contribution to the advancement of their particular specialization.  Guilds generally no longer exist today except in the form of small local societies of artisans or practitioners, becoming more irrelevant when capital-owning workers who had their own tools and shops, were gradually absorbed and attracted into the “regularity” of industrial employment; in effect, unions appeared when the guilds disappeared. 

Due to the more pronounced role of guilds in the promotion of the theological position of the primacy of labor – through workers’ distinction in the products or services they create, and through an autonomy that supported its power to exclusively regulate itself and to influence society – a common suggestion prevalent in Catholic Social Teaching is for unions aside from being solicitors for workers’ entreaties, to consider being reconfigured as similar to guilds; or for the guilds themselves in all its basic characteristics, to be resurrected in the same or in another form.  This may be interpreted somewhat as the Church’s continuing call for “workers not always to think and feel as if they will forever be working for somebody else, but to finally believe they are working for themselves”. 

Right to a just share in the earnings generated from the created value of production – This theological position is a continuing exhortation for workers to be bestowed with a fair portion of the surplus value earned in the exchange of produced goods and services.  

It is quite clear to both employers and workers that “profit sharing” is not a competitive demand for total earnings, but Catholic Social Teaching presently does not offer any unambiguous general basis upon which this “just share” can be quantified, since theologians have to admit that such matters of application are already beyond its competence.  The most comprehensible reference to this “just share” only suggests that profits “will accrue equitably to those who are rich and will be distributed in ample sufficiency among the workers” i.e., the “just share” is equivalent to the balance that remains after paying an ‘equitable’ allotment for capital-owners, and then distributed to workers in a manner that everyone is enjoying a comfortable ration of providence. 

How one interprets what is ‘equitable’ for capital-owners, and what is ‘ample’ for workers can be a subject of vigorous debate, and hence “profit sharing” may at this point in time, cannot have universal applicability and can with least conflict be implemented only voluntarily through local and limited contract agreements.  Catholic Social Teaching mentions such agreements, pertaining to what it calls a “partnership-contract” as a modification of the “work-contract”, highly encouraging the formalization of “profit sharing”, expressing in effect:  “We are no longer agreeing what to pay you [the worker]; we are now agreeing what I will earn and what you will earn when we reap the fruits of our efforts.” 

Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.

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