The Right to Just Wage
Prioritization of labor over capital in the Catholic Social Teaching (CST) does not mean that the employer should provide work or keep the employee in the company even if the pay is low or contrary to what the Church thinks as the just wage. Though the capacity of the employer to give a just wage to the worker is conditioned by various factors within or beyond his/her control, the Church is firm in its teaching that workers must be paid promptly and justly and this is a moral duty for employers.
Pope Leo XIII, in his social encyclical Rerum Novarum, describes this duty to pay workers with a just wage as follows:
“Among the most important duties of employers, the principal one is to give all workers what is justly due them. Assuredly, to establish a rule of pay in accord with justice, many factors must be taken into account. But, in general, the rich and employers must remember that no laws, either human or divine, permit them for their own profit to oppress the needy and the wretched or to seek gain from another’s want. To defraud anyone of the wage due him/ her is a great crime that calls down avenging wrath from Heaven: Behold, the wages of the laborers . . . which have been kept back by you unjustly, cry out: and their cry has entered into the ears of the Lord of Hosts (Jas 5:4)” (Rerum Novarum #20).
The Church upholds the right of workers, whether they be in private or public sector, or in white or blue-collar jobs, to a just wage. Salary for work should guarantee the worker the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good (GS, n.67).
The Minimum Wage
The minimum wage is the salary determined by law which does not reflect the current cost of living for the worker and his/her family. Since legislation is a tedious process, the minimum wage law is often overtaken by the rising cost of living. In the Philippines, the “minimum wage” is the lowest basic wage rates that an employer can pay his workers, as fixed by the board, which shall not be lower than the applicable statutory minimum wage rates (Article 121 (C) of the Labor Code amended by R.A. 6727) (Coriage 2007).
The minimum wage in the private sector is not a just wage. Although the Philippines is fortunate to have a minimum wage law compared to other Asian countries, Catholic employers should not be contented to give only the legal wage to their employees. The right of the workers to a just wage as stipulated by the Church is a moral right that every Christian employer should respect. As the name suggests, the minimum wage is only the basic or lowest measure of wage set by state law to guide employers in remunerating all workers in a particular country or region. Its basic pay does not necessarily correspond to the amount which is necessary to sustain the worker’s needs and his family. This is not a living wage as this wage is always lower than what is sufficient to raise a family of normal size.
Furthermore, the increase of the minimum wage is dependent on the legislation of Congress and implementation of the executive branch. With the pressure of the powerful business sector on the government, the minimum wage often stagnates while the cost of living increases every year dramatically. The issue of the minimum wage is an example of what is legal may not be necessarily be moral. The payment of minimum wage by employers is legal as it is in accordance to law, but this is also immoral as this is contrary to moral law on just wage.
The Family Living Wage as the Just Wage
The moral standard of the Catholic Social Teaching for a just wage is not the Minimum wage as prescribed by Philippine Congress or by Regional Wage and Productivity Board but the family living wage. In determining this wage, the Church teaches that the employer must consider the needs, contribution of the worker, and the condition of the business enterprise. But the actual needs of the worker’s and his family is the paramount criteria for employers in stipulate the salary of the employee.
A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work… In determining fair pay, both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. Remuneration for work should guarantee humans the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for themselves and their family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good (Gaudium et Spes, #67).
If a worker is regular or permanent in the company with an employee-employer relationship, s/he deserves a family wage regardless whether s/he has already a family or not. The just wage of the Church is one that is able to sustain the personal and family needs of the worker, without requiring the other spouse (if married) to work:
“In the first place, the worker must be paid a wage sufficient to support him [or her] and his [or her] family…It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost, for mothers, on account of the father’s low wage, to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children”(Quadragesimo Anno, n. 71).
The CST’s teaching on just wage is stricter than what the labor law requires. It is even beyond the standards of a living wage which allow both spouses to be employed. In CST, the wife is not required to be employed in order to receive the just wage. The Church gives importance to the role of the wife in childrearing and teaching the children in the Christian way of life. If both are employed to receive the living wage, the moral and human development of the children would be jeopardized as well as the institution of the family as the domestic church in society.
Therefore, the criteria in formulating the level of wage, for the Church, is not the wage contract signed by the employer and employee but the actual needs of the worker and his family. The agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages (CCC, n. 2434). More often, the work contract is lower than what the worker actually needs to sustain his personal and family needs. Moreover, the agreement is often a contract of adhesion prepared by the employer and often manipulated by the employer to reduce production cost. Out of necessity, the worker is sometimes forced to accept the agreement even if its provisions are detrimental to his/her welfare.
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