Work and Workers

Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in Gods creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected--the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.

Quotes from Church Documents:

Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God. It follows that, in the reality of today's global society, it is essential that "we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone," no matter the limited interests of business and dubious economic reasoning. We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. (Pope Francis, On Care for Our Common Home [Laudato Si. . . '], nos. 127-28)

I would like to remind everyone,  especially governments engaged in boosting the world's economic and social  assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the  human person in his or her integrity: "Man is the source, the focus and the  aim of all economic and social life." (Pope Benedict XVI, Charity  in Truth[Caritas in Veritate. . . ], no. 25, quoting Second Vatican Council, The Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes. . . ], no. 63)

In many cases, poverty results from a violation  of the dignity of human work, either because work opportunities are limited  (through unemployment or underemployment), or "because a low value is put on  work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and  to the personal security of the worker and his or her family."  (Pope Benedict XVI, Charity  in Truth [Caritas in Veritate. . . ], no. 63)

The  obligation to earn one's bread by the sweat of one's brow also presumes the  right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in  which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of  employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can that  society attain social peace. (St. John Paul II, The Hundredth Year [Centesimus  Annus. . . ], no. 43)

All people have the right to  economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent  working conditions, as well as to organize and join unions or other  associations. (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, A Catholic Framework for Economic Life, no. 5)


Work - Sustained effort with the intent to produce or accomplish something

Subjective Dimension of Work - the human person and his/her involvement in work

Objective Dimension of Work - the product or outcome of work

Just Wage - A wage that will  help workers meet their needs and those of their family, and give them a degree of security

Job - A job is something short-term that we do for money.  There’s no long-lasting fulfillment or happiness from a job. People typically outgrow one job and then search for the next job. 

Career - A career is something with long-term goals for which we make money. Careers may provide the monetary means to obtain material possessions, but our careers aren’t fulfilling.

Vocation - A vocation, or calling, is similar to a career but we also get deep satisfaction and fulfillment from our vocation. So not only do we earn money to obtain material possessions, but there is deep satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness. 

Greed - Also known as avarice; it is the desire for earthly goods beyond what we need.

Consumerism - A social and economic order that encourages the purchase of goods in ever greater amounts; It leads to what Pope Francis has called a "culture of waste".


The Basic Rights of Workers: (taken from The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church)

  1. The Right to a Just Wage
  2. The Right to Rest
  3. The Right to a Safe Workplace
  4. The Right that One's Conscience be Safeguarded
  5. The Right to Appropriate Subsidies to Aid Unemployed Workers
  6. The Right to a Pension and to Insurance
  7. The Right to Social Security Connected with Maternity
  8. The Right to Assemble and to Form Associations
  9. The Right to Strike

Two Problematic Economic Systems:

"Unbridled Capitalism" - Refers to a system with unregulated business practices that lead to the exploitation of workers and their rights being denied.  In his encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II said that unbridled capitalism leads to "instances of contracts between employers and employees which lack reference to the most elementary justice regarding the employment of children or women, working hours, the hygienic condition of the work-place and fair pay;"

Socialism - A system where the government controls all means of production and private property cannot be owned by individuals but only by society as a whole.  In his encyclical Centesimus Annus, John Paul II said “Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism.”