R21 The right to work

Working Conditions

The expectation that people will need to work in order to live, runs through the Bible. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10, Paul makes the value of work very clear. People may work to grow or process crops, to look after family members or they may work for money in order to buy food.

People should have some choice in the work they do and ideally their work should bring some sense of satisfaction. People’s labour should not be exploited by others. When working for employers, people should receive a fair wage with equal pay for the same work for men and women. Workers should have regular breaks, work reasonable hours and have regular time off each week for worship and rest. People with disabilities should have opportunities to work. Unions can help protect workers from unsafe or unfair conditions and people have the right to form them or to join them.

Children under the age of 14 should not have to work long hours. This will prevent them from going to school and developing into healthy adults. There is a huge difference between expecting children to contribute to household work and exploiting them.

  • Read Matthew 20:1-16. Where do people gather in the hope of finding work in our region? How difficult is it to find work on a day-to-day basis for labourers?
  • What agreement did the landowner make about payment with the first four groups that he hired (verses 1-5)? What was their response?
  • Did the landowner discuss payment with the final group of workers that he hired at the eleventh hour? Why did they not ask him about this? Are casual labourers in our region in a position to discuss the rate of pay?
  • Do you feel the people who had worked all day were justified in complaining? Do we often grumble when others seem to receive better treatment than us?
  • Did the landowner meet his agreements over payment? What happens in our region if employers fail to meet their agreements, especially when they are not written agreements?
  • Who does the landowner represent in this parable? Who do the workers represent? How is this parable helpful in understanding our different situations in life?
  • This parable has a deeper meaning. It teaches us that God’s grace is for us all and that we can do nothing to earn it. Whatever our situation in life, his grace makes each of us equal in his sight. How does this amazing truth make us feel?
  • What difficulties do migrants face in finding work in our country?
  • Do working women who are pregnant or caring for young children have special consideration in our country? Is there more that could be done to support them?
  • Does our government take action to prevent working people from exploitation or from dangerous working conditions? How could we encourage them to improve conditions?
  • The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation and International Labour Organisation (see page 64) aim to ensure that all workers are treated fairly. Are there any issues that we could ask their advice about?

Articles 4, 23, 24 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights