Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

Learning More About Catholic Social Teachings

 Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions and requires us to eradicate racism and address the extreme poverty and disease plaguing so much of the world. Solidarity also includes the Scriptural call to welcome the stranger among us—including immigrants seeking work, a safe home, education for their children, and a decent life for their families. In light of the Gospel’s invitation to be peacemakers, our commitment to solidarity with our neighbors—at home and abroad—also demands that we promote peace and pursue justice in a world marred by terrible violence and conflict. Decisions on the use of force should be guided by traditional moral criteria and undertaken only as a last resort. As Pope Paul VI taught: “If you want peace, work for justice” (World Day of Peace Message, January 1, 1972).

The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. Employers contribute to the common good through the services or products they provide and by creating jobs that uphold the dignity and rights of workers—to productive work, to decent and just wages, to adequate benefits and security in their old age, to the choice of whether to organize and join unions, to the opportunity for legal status for immigrant workers, to private property and to economic initiative. Workers also have responsibilities—to provide a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, to treat employers and co-workers with respect, and to carry out their work in ways that contribute to the common good. Workers, employers and unions should not only advance their own interests, but also work together to advance economic justice and the well-being of all.

Scriptural Foundations

Human dignity finds special expression in the dignity of work and in the rights of workers. Through work we participate in creation. Workers have rights to just wages, rest and fair working conditions.

Sabbath gave laborers rest

Wage justice

Laborer deserves pay

Quotes from Official Church Documents

  • “We must first of all recall a principle that has always been taught by the Church; the principle of the priority of labor over capital. This principle directly concerns the process of production: In this process labor is always a primary efficient cause, while capital, the whole collection of means of production, remains a mere instrument of instrumental cause.”
    -Pope John Paul II, On Human work (Laborem Exercens),12.
  • All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions, as well as to organize and join unions or other associations.”
    -National Conference of Catholic Bishops, A Catholic Framework for Economic Life, 5.

From: Leader’s Guide to Sharing Catholic Social Teaching, (USCCB, 2001).

For further reading:

References from the Catechism

  • 2428 - In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work, Pope John Paul II, On Human work (Laborem Exercens), 6.
    Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.
  • 2433 - Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination: men and women, healthy and disabled, natives and immigrants, Pope John Paul II, On Human work (Laborem Exercens),19; 22-23.  For its part society should, according to circumstances, help citizens find work and employment, Centesimus annus, 49.

Practicing Faithful Citizenship

Prayer for Work *

Creator God,
thank you for providing us
with the gift to share our talents.
Provide our community, our nation, our world
the fortitude to provide work for all
which is decent and fair.
Make us faithful stewards
of your creation
to enhance the human dignity
of our global family.
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit
now and forever.


*From Being Neighbor: The Catechism and Social Justice, USCCB, April, 1998