“… for the laborer deserves his payment.”
These words form the basis for one of the foundational principles of Catholic Social Teaching. A worker is expected to put in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Notice that there are two parts to that sentence: (1) a fair day’s work for (2) a fair day’s pay.
Marge is always early. Although her “official” hours are 9 to 5, she’s usually at her desk by 8:45 a.m. and rarely leaves before 5:15 p.m. In fact, Marge’s boss is so accustomed to her early start that on the rare occasion that Marge actually does come in at 9 a.m. he gets upset with her for coming in late. On the other hand, Marge’s co-worker, Debbie, usually comes rushing in late with some story about traffic or a problem at home. Her stories are so convincing that the boss ends up feeling sorry for her and suggesting that she leave early to take care of whatever emergency is going on. Which worker is giving a fair day’s work? What is a fair day’s pay in this scenario?
Another example: many Americans are trying to buy only goods produced in the United States, but as more and more parts of products are manufactured in other countries, the words “Made in America” may only mean that the bits and pieces were put together here. Conversely, bits and pieces manufactured here are just as likely to be put together in other countries. Why is this happening? Often it’s because labor is cheaper elsewhere. In fact, entire websites are devoted to tracking foreign manufacturers who employ women and underage children for long hours with few if any breaks under deplorable and unsafe working conditions. What, exactly, is a fair day’s work? And how much is a fair day’s pay?
As consumers we are, in effect, employers to the world. Do we do all we can to insure that laborers receive a fair day’s pay? As workers, do we provide a fair day’s work? “Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves” — or at least sometimes it feels that way …
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.