By Klaus Döring
We are all workers. Whether we work in a plush carpeted office as executives or managers, in a hot and noisy assembly-plant as factory-hands or as house-wives at home.
Why do we work? Why do we slug five or six days a week (or even more?) for eight or more hours at a stretch? The church has had quite a lot to say about work and especially, the rights of the workers. And when you get through the church jargon, you’ll find statements on minimum wages for workers, needs for leisure and social benefits.
It is the Book of Genesis which tells us that work is God’s gift to human beings. God gave us the will, power and intelligence to “fill the earth and subdue it” and not just talk about seeing the wild beasts, the fruits and grains.
We are given the enormous task of shaping the earth, whether as machinist in a textile factory, or as clerk in court. The important message is: Work is for man (and woman) and not man (and woman) for work! Through work, man develops himself, his personality and his sense of self-worth. It is also through work that man produces goods and services contributing and participating in the development and society.
In the encyclical Laborem Exercens (on human work), Pope Emeritus John Paul II made it clear that there should be just remuneration for the work of an adult who is responsible for a family and this means enough money for the breadwinner to feed, clothe and maintain his partner and children, with provisions “for security for his future”.
We know the church cares. But the church is not our employer. In daily life, there are our bosses and companies which dictate our wages, our increments and our social benefits. What happens if we have bosses who feel they own us; bosses who demand over-time from us and who are more worried about cutting company costs than about our wages?
Pope John Paul II saw these problems a long time ago as conflicts between labour and capital and the strongly opposed exploitation of the workers by entrepreneurs who want to maximize profits by giving low wages. The late Pope called the Trade Union an indispensable element of social life especially in modern industrialized societies “with the task of being a mouthpiece for the struggles for social justice for the just rights of working people”.
If you think this is the beginning to sound radical, hang on, there’s more. Workers, he said, should be allowed to strike without being subjected to personal penal sanctions for taking part in a strike. Strikes, of course, are the extreme means, to be taken only after other means if reconciliation fails!
With a satisfactory work-life balance, employers can reap a range of benefits. Productivity is higher, absenteeism is lower, and physical and mental health improves with a higher commitment and motivation to work. Personal relationships can also benefit from achieving this balance.