Concerning the fair salaryBy Father Julio Meinvielle (1905-1973)
Extracted from "Concepción Católica de la Economía"
Translated from the Spanish by Roberto Hope
- Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.
- Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.
- Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.
- Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty
- You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.
- You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
This is how the Apostles used to talk condemning exploitation of the poor; no one should be startled, then, of hearing words of strong condemnation of the capitalist monster which has become inebriated and gets drunk with the sweat of the day laborer.
What should be understood by a fair salary owed to the worker? Or better put: what is the minimum salary which cannot be reduced under any circumstances without committing a grave injustice?
Leo XIII and Pius XI have answered this question in a form so thorough that it does not allow adding anything new in this regard.
Labor ― especially that of a worker or of an employee ― is the exercise of a man´s activity directed to the acquisition of those things that are necessary for the diverse uses of life, and mainly for self-preservation.
The man who offers his labor for hire lives off his labor: he has the right to a human existence; even more so: he has the right to a human and Christian existence. He cannot be used as a machine or as merchandise or as a pack donkey or simply as an elegant animal. Therefore, if he works, i.e. if he employs his strength in things belonging to another man, he has the right to receive from the latter the resources that are necessary for him to lead a human life, one worthy of man.
Note that the salary needed to support a family is owed to every laborer as minimum salary, even if he is single, because that is the human salary owed to every man. If he does not marry is a matter concerning only him. The employer owes him the human salary, which is not less than the salary needed to support a family.
A human life: but it is not human life that which gets not more than what is strictly necessary for daily sustenance, one which cannot save to provide for future needs. Hence, a fair salary demands more than what is strictly necessary for the daily sustenance of the family. This is why Pius XI said that “it helps the common good that workers and employees get to accumulate little by little a modest capital by saving some portion of their salary once they have covered the necessary expenses.
The minimum fair salary includes, additionally, a human and a Christian treatment. Human treatment: “and for this reason, it must be ensured that the daily work does not extend to a number of hours greater than what strength normally permits. The length of resting periods should be determined by considering the different kinds of work, the circumstances of time and location and the health of the workers themselves” (Leo XIII)
Human treatment: By this, we understand that the division of labor such as that imposed by “Taylorization” should be condemned. It is not tolerable that a man be subjected to the automatic repetition of the same movements, just as a machine, without letting him use his own initiative. Man is not, as Taylor imagined and asserted, a man-ox. He has the right to human nobility.
In addition to human, Christian treatment. Because as the worker has been ransomed by Christ, and is loved by Christ in a special way, as He once was a worker too, he has the right to be considered as a Christian and that every facility be given for him to fulfill his religious duties and to sanctify the days of the Lord.
The minimum salary explained above should not be denied in any case or for any reason, even if it is authorized by civil legislation. “If at any time it should happen ― says Leo XIII ― that a worker, moved by necessity or for fear of a greater evil, should be forced to accept a harsher condition against his will because his boss or contractor imposes it absolutely; that would be tantamount to exercising violence, and violence demands justice”(Leo XIII). With the current level of unemployment, there is no dearth of employers who exploit the scarce demand for labor, by unjustly compensating low the workers' labor. If an enterprise lacks resources to pay the worker his due salary, it cannot demand of him an ordinary amount of work. It can only demand the amount of work it is able to compensate. If it diminishes the salary below what is fair, in equal proportion it should reduce the amount of work demanded.
Up to here, we have tried to determine quickly the minimum wage below which, compensation may not be reduced without incurring in a baneful violation of strict justice.
Should the employer be satisfied with this? In no way. As stated by the Code of the International Union of Social Studies of Mechelen: “The minimum salary does not fulfill the requirements for justice. Above the minimum, several main causes matter, be it for the sake of justice, of equity or of betterment. Thus, for example, greater production or greater prosperity of the employer demand an increase in salary. Additionally, there should be a salary hierarchy, in accordance with the economic function performed. It is not fair that the work of the quarrier be paid the same as that of the electrician.