Dignity of labor an illusion for laborers

By Sr. Rani Punnaserril

New Delhi: A country’s material prosperity depends on the progress of its agriculture, industry and trade. The prosperity and power of the country come from ordinary laborers who work in fields, mines, mills and factories. Thus work is power.

An uneducated laborer is better than an educated man who is idle because the former earns his bread with the sweat of his brow. His work is sacred as worshipping God.

Hence, no proper development in agriculture and industry, trades and commerce in our country is possible without stressing the dignity of labor.

Gandhi’s views on work and labor

Mahatma Gandhi owed all his success and greatness to the incessant toil and hard work of silent, devoted, able and pure workers, men as well as women. He believed that “work without faith” is a sin.

The Father of the Nation had noted that grinding poverty and starvation made people struggle desperately for bread. Poverty makes them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect. Gandhi argued with philanthropists and institutions to provide meals in healthy and clean surroundings in exchange for work.

The current population of India stood at 1,351,052,632 as of April 20, 2018, based on the latest United Nations estimates. Since Independence in 1947, around 30 percent of the population has become beggars every year.

Gandhi invented the spinning wheel as the victorious mantra as answer for the regressive condition of the nation. He felt strongly that spinning and cotton related processes alone could be the ideal occupation for the poor to earn their bread. While allowing the other options of work, he asserted, “No labor, no meal.”

He also pointed out the divine law from the Bible and Gita saying, “Those who ate without work were thieves.” Gita, in particular, says that he who eats without offering a sacrifice eats not the earned but stolen food.

Capital versus labor

‘Respect for labor should be national trait,’ said Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Independence Day in 2015. The PM roars like a lion at his speeches but the poor laborers are trapped with his new commitments like the new Labor Codes and Pakhoda business.

What is our attitude towards these poor laborers? Do we give them the respect, dignity and fair dues that they are entitled to? An honest introspection will reveal that most of us who have earned a college degree think lowly of them. We haggle with them for petty money and we never appreciate their work. We think that they overcharge us every time and are critical of their work. There is never a job well done and giving a tip is absolutely out of the question. We think twice to help a poor child but we willingly donate to religious institutions.

We pay the bill at the restaurants and malls with satisfactory tips to the waiters whereas we bargain with the vegetable vendor, auto/rickshaw pullers, and small-scale business people. What are we communicating to the poor laborers and can we think of having India without them? Duty done more than eight hours is overtime work which according to law binds us to pay accordingly.

Each employer has the moral responsibility and legal liability to provide their works safety, social security and minimum wage as per the government notifications. It is disheartening to see nurses fighting for decent wage. A hospital cannot run only with doctors who are highly paid. It depends on nurses and paramedical staff. Only feudal-minded business people could promote disparity in payment.

The Indian Constitution makers perceived the human beyond a mere physical entity and incorporated Article 21 that says, “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

Dignity is one of the civil rights. Harassment and bullying at workplace infringes a person’s right to live with dignity as enshrined in our constitution. It is the duty of the state to protect a citizen’s dignity at all places, including at the workplaces.

The pledge in the preamble of the Constitution is to secure the “Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual” which includes dignity of the employees at the workplace.

Article 42 of the Constitution directs the state to make a “provision for securing just and humane conditions of work. Article 43 directs the State to secure, all workers, agricultural, industrial or otherwise, work, a living wage, conditions of work ensuring a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities by suitable legislation or economic organization or in any other way.

Thus the State is under an obligation to make it possible for the employees to work in genuine and human conditions of work without any humiliation and harassment in which their right to honor and dignity is not infringed.

The Catholic Church has the best social teachings on the dignity of labor. It shows the place a worker has in the church. 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. In the light of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, Catholic brethren need to examine themselves as to how far it is implemented by them.

Sr Rani Punnasseril
The man is capable of work, and the man works, at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth. Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. And this mark decides its interior characteristics; in a sense, it constitutes its very nature.

Saint John Paul II – Laborem Exercens

It is sad to note in this secular country that a fear psychosis has been put into the mind of our workers by high and mighty, polluting their innocent minds with their religious fanaticism. United India is being torn apart by division and hatred. Hate speeches to malign the dignity of another is an enjoyment for some. People of the nation must rise up against the vested interest and selfish motives of political parties.

(Sr. Rani Punnaserril, Holy Cross, Menzingen (HCM), is the program manager, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India Office for Labour, New Delhi)

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1 thought on “Dignity of labor an illusion for laborers

  1. ” Dignity of the Labor” is totally an alien culture in India. Some unknown lessons learned in our daily upbringing that we are assigned only to do certain things, nothing else.

    Do remember, our Middle School Headmaster who was the first college graduate in our village, B.A.L.T., used to work in his farm in the morning while the neighbor who was graduated from the High school with S.S.L.C. acted like the Oxford scholar. This High School graduate will not touch the soil even if we beat him. What a pride of life?

    We will have to train our children and grand children about the dignity of labor from the very early part of life. We must force them to do safe menial jobs, then only they will understand the pain of the struggling working class engaged in the menial jobs, thus they will appreciate their hard work.

    One very rich diamond dealer from Gujarat sent his son with a minimum amount of money to Kerala to learn the suffering of life. This was in the news papers. He worked in a big city of Kerala, worked in a restaurant washing dishes and other hard jobs for a few days. He had to knock on many doors to get a job, slept in the most uncomfortable surroundings. Returned to Gujarat and came back with his friends, he gave away lakhs of Rs. worth gifts to his co-workers at Kerala.

    The rich people who are giving away all the wants of their children pouring affection through materials things, indeed they are spoiling their children. The best practical training every rich person can do for their children is to arrange an opportunity to be with the people working in the farm or factories; also show them the sufferings of the poor villages and slums of India; and force them to be involved with them like a family for a few days. That will give the children an unforgettable lesson of life to be human and compassionate for the rest of their lives, also they will learn the dignity of labor.

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