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Wages

Finally, remuneration for labor is to be such that people may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily their own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of their dependents, in view of the function and productiveness of each one, the conditions of the factory or workshop, and the common good.

Gaudium et Spes ("The Church in the Modern World")

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 (“On the Condition of Labor and the Working Classes”), Pope Leo XIII, 1891, #20.


 

A man’s labor has two notes or characters. First of all, it is personal; for the exertion of individual power belongs to the individual who puts it forth, employing this power for that personal profit for which it was given. Secondly, a man’s labor is necessary; for without the results of labor a man cannot live; and self-conservation is a law of nature, which it is wrong to disobey. Now, if we were to consider labor merely so far as it is personal, doubtless it would be within the workman’s right to accept any rate of wages whatever;…But this is a mere abstract supposition; the labor of the workingman is not only his personal attribute, but it is necessary; and this makes all the difference. The preservation of life is the bounden duty of each and all, and to fail therin is a crime. It follows that each one has a right to procure what is required in order to live; and the poor can procure it in no other way than by work and wages.

Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor and the Working Classes”), Pope Leo XIII, 1891, #34.


 

Let it be granted, then, that, as a rule, workman and employer should make free agreements, and in particular should freely agree as to wages; nevertheless, there is a dictate of nature more imperious and more ancient than any bargain between man and man, that the remuneration must be enough to support the wage earner in reasonable and frugal comfort.

Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor and the Working Classes”), Pope Leo XIII, 1891, #34.


 

Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.

Rerum Novarum (“On the Condition of Labor and the Working Classes”), Pope Leo XIII, 1891, #45.


 

“This program [uplifting the proletariat] cannot, however, be realized unless the propertyless wage earner be placed in such circumstances that by skill and thrift he can acquire a certain moderate ownership. … But how can he ever save money, except from his wages and by living sparingly, who has nothing but his labor by which to obtain food and the necessities of life?”

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931, #63.


 

Every effort must therefore be made that fathers of families receive a wage large enough to meet ordinary family needs adequately. But if this cannot always be done under existing circumstances, social justice demands that changes be introduced as soon as possible whereby such a wage will be assured to every adult workingman.

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931, #71.


 

In determining the amount of the wage, the condition of a business and of the one carrying it on must also be taken into account; for it would be unjust to demand excessive wages which a business cannot stand without its ruin and consequent calamity to the workers. If, however, a business makes too little money, because of lack of energy or lack of initiative or because of indifference to technical and economic progress, that must not be regarded a just reason for reducing the compensation of the workers. But if the business in question is not making enough money to pay the workers an equitable wage because it is being crushed by unjust burdens or forced to sell its product at less than a just price, those who are thus the cause of the injury are guilty of grave wrong, for they deprive workers of their just wage and force them under the pinch of necessity to accept a wage less than fair.

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931 #72.


 

For everyone knows that an excessive lowering of wages, or their increase beyond due measure, causes unemployment. This evil, indeed, especially as we see it prolonged and injuring so many during the years of Our Pontificate, has plunged workers into misery and temptations, ruined the prosperity of nations, and put in jeopardy the public order, peace, and tranquillity of the whole world. Hence it is contrary to social justice when, for the sake of personal gain and without regard for the common good, wages and salaries are excessively lowered or raised; and this same social justice demands that wages and salaries be so managed, through agreement of plans and wills, in so far as can be done, as to offer to the greatest possible number the opportunity of getting work and obtaining suitable means of livelihood.

Quadragesimo Anno (“After Forty Years”), Pope Pius XI, 1931 #74.


 

We therefore consider it Our duty to reaffirm that the remuneration of work is not something that can be left to the laws of the marketplace; nor should it be a decision left to the will of the more powerful. It must be determined in accordance with justice and equity; which means that workers must be paid a wage which allows them to live a truly human life and to fulfill their family obligations in a worthy manner.

Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXII, 1961, #71.


 

Any adjustment between wages and profits must take into account the demands of the common good of the particular country and of the whole human family. What are these demands? On the national level they include: employment of the greatest possible number of workers; care lest privileged classes arise, even among the workers; maintenance of equilibrium between wages and prices; the need to make goods and services accessible to the greatest number; elimination, or at least the restriction, of inequalities in the various branches of the economy–that is, between agriculture, industry and services; creation of a proper balance between economic expansion and the development of social services, especially through the activity of public authorities; the best possible adjustment of the means of production to the progress of science and technology; seeing to it that the benefits which make possible a more human way of life will be available not merely to the present generation but to the coming generations as well.

Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”), Pope John XXII, 1961, #78-79.


 

From the dignity of the human person, there also arises the right to carry on economic activities according to the degree of responsibility of which one is capable. Furthermore–and this must be specially emphasized–the worker has a right to a wage determined according to criterions of justice, and sufficient, therefore, in proportion to the available resources, to give the worker and his family a standard of living in keeping with the dignity of the human person.

Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), Pope John XXIII, 1963, #20.


 

Finally, remuneration for labor is to be such that people may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily their own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of their dependents, in view of the function and productiveness of each one, the conditions of the factory or workshop, and the common good.

Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Second Vatican Council, 1965, #67.


 

Not infrequently those who are hired as labourers or who farm a portion of the land as tenants receive a wage or income unworthy of a human being; they are deprived of decent living conditions and are exploited by entrepeneurs. They lack all sense of security and live in such a state of personal dependence that almost all chance of exercising initiative and responsibility is closed to them and they are denied any cultural advancement or participation in social and political life. Reforms are called for in these different situations: incomes must be raised, working conditions improved, security in employment assured, and personal incentives to work encouraged; insufficiently cultivated estates should be divided up and given to those who will be able to make them productive.

Gaudium et Spes (“The Church in the Modern World”), Second Vatican Council, 1965, #71.


 

The church is firmly committed to this cause for she considers it her mission, her service, a proof of her fidelity to Christ, so that she can truly be the “church of the poor.” And the “poor” appear under various forms; they appear in various places and at various times; in many cases they appear as a result of the violation of the dignity of human work: either because the opportunities for human work are limited as a result of the scourge of unemployment 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.

Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work”), Pope John Paul II, 1981, #8.


 

Hence in every case a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system and, in any case, of checking that it is functioning justly. It is not the only means of checking, but it is a particularly important one and in a sense the key means.

Laborem Exercens (“On Human Work”), Pope John Paul II, 1981, #19.


 

Many working people and middle-class Americans live dangerously close to poverty. A rising number of families must rely on the wages of two or even three members just to get by. From 1968 to 1978 nearly a quarter of the U.S. population was in poverty part of the time and received welfare benefits in at least one year. The loss of a job, illness, or the breakup of a marriage may be all it takes to push people into poverty.

The lack of a mutually supportive relation between family life and economic life is one of the most serious problems facing the United States today. The economic and cultural strength of the nation is directly linked to the stability and health of its families. When families thrive, spouses contribute to the common good through their work at home, in the community, and in their jobs; and children develop a sense of their own worth and of their responsibility to serve others. When families are weak or break down entirely, the dignity of parents and children is threatened. High cultural and economic costs are inflicted on society at large.

Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, United States Catholic Bishops, 1986, #17-18.


 

The way power is distributed in a free market economy frequently gives employers greater bargaining power than employees in the negotiation of labor contracts. Such unequal power may press workers into a choice between an inadequate wage or no wage at all. But justice, not charity, demands certain minimum wage guarantees. The provision of wages and other benefits sufficient to support a family in dignity is a basic necessity to prevent this exploitation of workers. The dignity of workers also requires adequate health care, security for old age or disability, unemployment compensation, healthful working conditions, weekly rest, periodic holidays for recreation and leisure, and reasonable security against arbitrary dismissal. These provisions are all essential if workers are to be treated as persons rather than simply a “factor of production.”

Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, United States Catholic Bishops, 1986, #103.


 

Workers must use their collective power to contribute to the well-being of the whole community and should avoid pressing demands whose fulfillment would damage the common good and the rights of more vulnerable members of society. It should be noted, however, that wages paid to workers are but one of the factors affecting the competitiveness of industries. Thus, it is unfair to expect unions to make concessions if managers and shareholders do not make at least equal sacrifices.

Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, United States Catholic Bishops, 1986, #106.


 

The first line of attack against poverty must be to build and sustain a healthy economy that provides employment opportunities at just wages for all adults who are able to work. Poverty is intimately linked to the issue of employment. Millions are poor because they have lost their jobs or because their wages are too low. The persistent high levels of unemployment during the last decade are a major reason why poverty has increased in recent years. Expanded employment especially in the private sector would promote human dignity, increase social solidarity, and promote self reliance of the poor. It should also reduce the need for welfare programs and generate the income necessary to support those who remain in need and can not work: elderly, disabled, and chronically ill people, and single parents of young children. It should also be recognized that the persistence of poverty harms the larger society because the depressed purchasing power of the poor contributes to the periodic cycles of stagnation in the economy.

Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, United States Catholic Bishops, 1986, #196a.


 

So long as we tolerate a situation in which people can work fulltime and still be below the poverty line — a situation common among those earning the minimum wage — too many will continue to be counted among the `working poor.’ Concerted efforts must be made through job training, affirmative action, and other means to assist those now prevented from obtaining more lucrative jobs. Action should also be taken to upgrade poorer paying jobs and to correct wage differentials that discriminate unjustly against women.

Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, United States Catholic Bishops, 1986, #199b.


 

Furthermore, society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings. This requires a continuous effort to improve workers’ training and capability so that their work will be more skilled and productive, as well as careful controls and adequate legislative measures to block shameful forms of exploitation, especially to the disadvantage of the most vulnerable workers, of immigrants and of those on the margins of society. The role of trade unions in negotiating minimum salaries and working conditions is decisive in this area.

Centesimus Annus (“The Hundredth Year,” Donders translation), Pope John Paul II, 1991, #15.


 

A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. 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). Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, The Vatican, 1992, #2434.


 

Owners, managers, and investors face important opportunities to seek justice and pursue peace. Ethical responsibility is not just avoiding evil, but doing right, especially for the weak and vulnerable. Decisions about the use of capital have moral implications: Are they creating and preserving quality jobs at living wages? Are they building up community through the goods and services they provide? Do policies and decisions reflect respect for human life and dignity, promote peace and preserve God’s creation? While economic returns are important, they should not take precedence over the rights of workers or protection of the environment.

Everyday Christianity, US Catholic Conference, 1998, Called to Justice in Everyday Life.


 

Most significantly, poor people themselves, in the United States and abroad, are working to break the cycle of poverty—seeking decent work; organizing for a “living wage”; making wise choices; building community organizations and unions; and working for clean water, health care, housing, and education. They are seeking their place at the table. There is reason for hope and no excuse for inaction.

A Place at the Table, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 2002, III.


 

Catholic teaching affirms that all persons, even those on the margins of society, have basic human rights: the right to life and to those things that are necessary to the proper development of life, including faith and family, work and education, housing and health care. Work is the key to the social question (cf. Pope John Paul II, On Human Work). Work should not leave people poor but should provide wages sufficient to achieve a standard of living that is in keeping with human dignity.

A Place at the Table, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 2002,  V.


 

Both employers and the labor movement must help the poorest workers to have a voice and a place at the table where wages and working conditions are set. A key measure of the marketplace is whether it provides decent work and wages for people, especially those on the margins of economic life…Workers and farmers in this country and around the world need living wages; access to health care; vacation time and family and medical leave; a voice and real participation in the workplace; and the prospect of a decent retirement. Work must be an escape from poverty, not another version of it

A Place at the Table, U.S. Catholic Bishops, 2002, VI.


 

Yet we desire even more than this; our dream soars higher. We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative,
participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use.

Evangelii Gaudium (“Apostolic Exhortation on The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis, 2013, #192.


 

Any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour, as Saint John Paul II wisely noted in his Encyclical Laborem Exercens.

Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”), Pope Francis, 2015, Chapter 6, #124.

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