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Exploiting Human Dignity

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Submitted By sid711
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Sidartha G. Acuyong

Th151 – Y Exploiting the Human Dignity: An Ethical Christian Response to Labor Exploitation

Introduction The labor sector has faced major quandaries in the actualization of their rights granted to them under the law. Some businesses and giant corporations continue to circumvent their duty to provide for adequate employment benefits like healthcare and social security. Such behavior leaves the worker in a poor and destitute condition. Under the Philippine Constitution, it is a state policy that “the State affirms labor as a primary social economic force. It shall protect the rights of the workers and promote their welfare” (Philippine Constitution Art. II, Sec. 18). Ideally, the law must side with the workers since they are practically powerless and voiceless in the face of capitalist industry. Labor exploitation is the inhumane cost of gaining national economic prosperity which is truly appalling and must be condemned as an ethical response to this unjust act. This paper aims to explain and provide an exposition of the exploitation of the labor sector and that these acts of exploitation must be greatly opposed. The concrete acts of labor exploitation that are opposed in this paper are contractualization, circumvention on provision of employment benefits, inhumane wages and other unfair labor practices.

The Agony of the Labor Sector: Context and Issues at Hand Why and how does labor exploitation occur? The very injustice done to the labor sector begins with the problem of the materialistic conditions of society. There is a phenomenal misappropriation of capital, land and other material goods which in turn give rise to an imbalance distribution of power to the population. Due to the accumulation of power and wealth to only a small portion of the population, there is an imbalance in terms of power and the means of selfdevelopment. The disparity in the accumulation of wealth and power also produce a highly economically stratified society and grave acts of injustice due to a small number of powerful individuals who are able to manipulate the production of wealth and power in serving and preserving their interests. The practice of contractualization has been prolific especially during the Arroyo administration. The labor sector along with the support of the non-government organizations has been lobbying for the prohibition of contractualization. “Since 1989, under the amended Labor Code, labor contractualization — hiring workers for short-term, non-regular employment without the benefits accorded by law to regular workers — has become rampant among business and industrial enterprises in the country.” (Ocampo "Labor contractualization: A 25-year bane to

workers"). Through contractualization, an employer can avoid its obligation to provide the employment benefits since the law only requires businesses to accord employment benefits to its regular employees. Major corporations like SM and Philippine Airlines owned by business conglomerates are greatly composed of contractualized employees which resulted to massive labor lawsuits in the history of labor jurisprudence.

The Plight of the Labor Sector and the Catholic Social Vision Catholic social teaching has strongly advocated and promoted the rights of the labor sector under the exploitation it faces from the businesses they work for. Catholic social teaching emphasizes that the human dignity which is the heart and soul of Catholic social teaching must be upheld and realize through the principles of common good, solidarity, subsidiarity and participation. Human work is the means of a person to realize the image of God and to respond to the vocation to share in the creative activity of God in the world. In Laborem Excerens written by Pope John Paul II, work is argued a vital and essential part of the human nature, and is a means to realize the dignity of the human person. It is not a mere activity or commodity which can be monetized. Such phenomenon of human work which is granted by God to man during Genesis is better understood in a framework which involves private property and capital. Also mentioned in the encyclical are the errors of materialism and economism which subordinate man to private property and commodify the labor input of the human person. As already mentioned, human work is only a means, not the ends for the realization or expression of the human dignity. The work is a means to make life more human (Laborem Exercens, 3). Through the work a human person does, one does not only create an impact upon the world but also on the very personhood of that person. Human work, as an expression of our humanity makes it a good on its own. A person should not also be subordinated by his or her work but should be the other way around; the person must subdue his or her own work since a human person is not a mere means or instrument as Kant described in one of his formulations of the universal laws. Work only contains value because of man who did the work. The rights of workers which flow from the proper appreciation of human work are the right to work, the right to a just share over the fruits of production and the right to organize to better defend and promote their interests and rights. Due to the industrial contribution of the person over the production of commodities, it is only rightful and fair for them to have a stake over crucial business decisions affecting his working conditions. In another encyclical, Toward a Better Distribution of Land: The Challenge of Agrarian Reform written by the Pontifical Justice and Peace Council, a better understanding of the conditions of the working farmers and their unjust conditions caused by misappropriation of the land they

rightfully own through agrarian reform. Due to the evident opposition of the Church on the unjust exploitation of the human laborer, it condemns any wage or benefit which is not befitting of the human dignity and sustenance of basic human needs. Also, constitutive of the human right, labor as a means for utilizing material goods, must be protected and respected through the duty of the public sphere of enacting laws which will ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of a worker. The rights of a worker, similar to Laborem Exercens, are right to humane conditions of work, right to just remunerations for work and the right to associate and organize to safeguard their rights. Catholic social teaching advocates the use of grassroots democracy and only a certain degree of regulation to ensure that the working industry is truly democratize. The development of a proper system of dialogue between the parties of the workers and employers must be properly established.

Economic Prosperity in contrast to Labor Issues Capitalists and businessmen in the country often argue the fact that increasing wages and championing the labor rights can destabilize our growing economy. Economic prosperity in the form of foreign investments requires cheap labor. Through minimizing labor costs which can translate to higher profit margins, the country can attract more foreign investors and multinational companies to operate here in the Philippines. An article entitled “Why Raising the Minimum Wage Kills Jobs,” tackles the issue on why minimum wage should be kept at a lower rate. If the government were to increase the minimum wage, unemployment will only worsen since the higher pay will lead to raising the standards required for those unemployed because job will also raise their value. “Workers must bring at least as much value to the firm as they are paid or the firm will fail and all jobs will be lost…Raising the minimum wage raises the hurdle a worker must cross to justify being hired” (Dunkelberg "Why Raising The Minimum Wage Kills Jobs"). Consequently, if the quality of available unemployed workers does not meet the standards expected of them, there will be a great backlog in unemployment. Another problem with the minimum wage hike which threatens the life span of a business is the rise in prices of the commodities due to the additional labor costs incurred in the production. If labor costs become too costly due to rise in wages, businesses will have to undergo reduction or retrenchment in order to survive. Also if the goal of the minimum wage hike is to mitigate poverty, such increase in wages fails to attain such goal since businesses will only defray their additional labor costs by passing it off to the consumers. The increase in the prices of goods will only offset the increase in wages and the whole situation will only end up with the problem from the beginning. In summary, the economy will greatly suffer as unemployment rates, business costs and prices escalate if wages are augmented.

The argument against raising minimum wage proves that the dominant ideology and its need to preserve its prevalence. The concept of economic prosperity presented by those against raising minimum wages must also be analyzed and criticized. Arguments against favoring the labor sector ignore the fact that, through higher minimum wages, there is a better redistribution of income and goods and the disparity between the upper and lower class is mollified. Development, to be sustainable, must be amenable to all parties involved which include the labor sector. If top management continues to ignore the workers’ interests, the workers’ dissatisfaction will only worsen as workers clamor for the improvement of their conditions and unsatisfied employees will only become unproductive and problematic for businesses. The income does not only accumulate within one class only but the goods are properly redistributed to the lower class, beneath those who benefit the most from the production of goods. The argument of those against minimum wage hike also demonstrates the discrepancy in the valuation of human labor. Capitalists treat the wages they incur as cost when in fact, wages should be treated as investment on developing valuable resources to the business operation. Workers should be treated as vital business resource, not just understood in the regular business sense, but as a special kind of resource. This particularity of the asset of workers stems from the fact that workers are humans and are different from all of the assets owned by the business. Workers are assets which do not simply depreciate over time but they are humans capable of flourishing and developing themselves given the proper environment and necessary investment. Applying Catholic social teaching, development does not only consist of mere economic growth, especially if only a limited number gets to enjoy the benefits of such economic growth. An authentic development calls for an integratedness and completeness, such that it has the capacity to promote the good of every person and of the whole person (Populorum Progressio, 14). It must respond to the need of the human person of being more – “to do more, know more and have more in order to be more.” (Populorum Progressio, 6) Being more is not only material progress and an increase in material possessions but moreover, it should also consist of moral and spiritual growth, growth which must be in the direction growing in the image and likeness of God.

Conclusion: The On-going Battle The labor sector is a primary social economic force necessary for industrial growth of the country yet faces wretched work conditions detrimental to their own need for human flourishing. Inequality has been cited as one of the main roots of poverty and such inequality is exhibited by the relations existing between the employer and employee. The Asian Development Bank attested to this and has cited the “high and persistent levels of inequality” (in terms of incomes and assets) as

one of the main causes of poverty in the country (Asian Development Bank 2). Under a historical materialist framework, Philippine history has seen the struggle of the Filipino laborer for workers’ rights to decent work conditions. The highest law of the land, the Constitution has vowed itself to promote the welfare and full protection of the laborers and their rights under the law. Despite this, the destitute conditions of the workers continue to worsen due to the preservation of interest of dominant class that precludes the undermining of the present state of affairs and protects the dominance of the prevailing class. Unfair labor practices such as contractualization inhibit the regularization of the employees depriving them their needed benefits and wages. Through the integration of Catholic social teachings, a deeper understanding of the worker and the process of estrangement that takes place in the workplace and the production process is achieved. In face of this huge structural issue within the labor sector, there is a great need for discourse concerning the matters of labor and their cry for radical structural change. Minimum wage hike is not enough to resolve the exploitation and oppression of the laborer. Redistribution of goods will not be enough to reverse the system that propagates exploitation but it will ignite the longwinded process of a dynamic social change. Still, the redistribution of goods is not sufficient which is why there is also a need for a redistribution of power through the systems of discourse. There is an inherent imbalance between the employer and employee and this imbalance is resolved through the collected rights of the workers exercised through collective bargaining and a process of labor relations. The system of labor relations should not be interfered with and must be treated as a better alternative to resolve labor disputes. In connection to this, this paper advocates the free exercise of a worker’s right to collective bargaining and legal concerted activities to secure better standards of employment. Through exercise of collected rights expressed into organized unions, workers are in a better position to voice out their demands to their employers and the unjust relations of employers and employees is balanced. Through empowerment of the labor sector, workers can be liberated from the oppression and exploitation of the dehumanizing capitalist regime.

Sources: Asian Development Bank. "Poverty in the Philippines: Causes, Constraints, and Opportunities." 2009. Asian Development Bank. Web. .

Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center, Inc. "Women Workers and Labor Contractualization." n.d. Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center. Web. .

John Paul II. “Laborem Exercens”. Laborem Exercens. 14 September 1981. Web. .

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. "Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844." Marxists Internet Archive. Ed. Dirk J. Struik. Web. . Moore, Wilbert Ellis. "The Worker and the Machine." Moore, Wilbert Ellis. Industrial relations and the social order. New York: Macmillan, 1946. 269-287. Print.

Ocampo, Satur. "Labor contractualization: A 25-year bane to workers." 21 June 2014. Web. .

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2004. Web.

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