This past spring, the Saskatchewan Legislature passed Bill 85. This Bill made wide-ranging changes to labour laws in Saskatchewan. As Archbishop of Regina, I wish to remind all Catholics, but especially employers and managers, that it is important to consider the greater flexibility granted by the revised law in view of the moral question of how we are to live out our Christian commitment to justice in the workplace.
Our Catholic teaching, as poignantly expressed in Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter Laborem Excercens ( #1), has consistently called our attention to “the dignity and rights of those who work” and seeks to “guide changes so as to ensure authentic progress” of each person and of society as a whole.
The place of ethics is supremely important as we seek the authentic well-being of people in the work place. Our legislators need truly to be at the service of the common good of their people. Ethics enable us to create a balanced social order that is more centered on the human person and his or her good and thus promotes the dignity and rights of those who work. Every change in our labour laws needs to help our society move forwards in seeking just working conditions for all.
The need for sound ethical principles is as important today as it ever has been in our history. Pope Francis recently commented that “The worship of the golden calf of old (cf. Ex 32:15-34) has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”
The growing disparity of income in our Canadian society is a pointed reminder of the presence of this threat as the income of a small few is grows with noticeable rapidity while the income of the great majority stagnates. As we struggle to make our economy grow there is a noticeable tendency to reduce the human person to one of their needs: consumption. So people now are not only described but identified as “consumers.” This proceeds on to seeing human persons themselves as consumer goods which are used and then discarded. The will to power and possession has become very strong and meets with little opposition.
It is out of concern for the dignity and value of human persons that Catholic moral teaching advances an accurate understanding of work, one that includes the need humans have for the Sabbath, for a day of rest. This teaching had found strong resonance in Saskatchewan’s labour laws when those laws directed employers to grant their employees, insofar as it was possible, Sunday as one of their days of rest each week. The new Omnibus Bill 85, however, omits this reference to Sunday.
Such an omission can be understandable if it is an attempt to recognize the religious diversity in our province. However, the removal of the Sabbath Day has a downside if the freedom in the new law prompts disregard of the ethical considerations which arise.
A troubling view of the labourer could creep in—one of viewing the working person only as an input in economic production. (Laborem Exercens #7)This would stand in direct opposition to the compelling view of work that is enshrined in our faith. Perhaps some of you recall that, when Sunday openings were first permitted, workers were assured that their wishes would be honored if they chose not to work on a Sunday. It turned out that in many instances, such assurances dissolved into nothing, and that among those who felt that they were compelled to work on Sunday were the most needy.
For Catholics, work has dignity not merely because of what is accomplished in an economic endeavour, but because of who is accomplishing the work. In the light of our Faith, we see the worker as one acting in the image and likeness of the Creator to participate in God’s creative work. Humanity is called not only to inhabit the cosmos, but also to "build" it and thus become God's "co-worker." (Dies Domini 10) By respecting the Sabbath, the Day of Rest, we share in the rest God was pleased to take after He completed His work of Creation; when we share in God's rest we underscore our own freedom to enjoy that rest.
The Day of Rest manifestly corresponds to the need humans have for regular periods of relaxation of mind and body. For Christian people, this time of rest allows for the reflection, silence, study and meditation that foster the growth of the interior Christian and spiritual life. The Divine Command to make this day holy imposes the gratifying duty to tend to family, cultural, social and religious life through friendships made concrete in charitable activity and works of mercy. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #284–285)
In order that labour is accorded its noble purpose, and in recognition of the practical support a shared day of rest offers families and communities, I appeal to the consciences of employers to grant each employee a day of rest each week that corresponds to the customary day of worship of the employee’s community of faith.
More broadly, I ask employers and managers to take the opportunity offered by the revision to our province's labour laws to ponder their obligation to establish a workplace that is consistent with the worker’s God given dignity and consistent with a worker’s God given right to be free to offer God the worship to which the worker’s community of faith calls him or her.
In this way employers and managers can promote the values of human work, recognizing that a person is “more precious for what he is than for what he has.” And they can promote a “greater justice, wider brotherhood, and a more humane ordering of social relationships...all of which supply the material for human progress.” (Laborem Exercens #26)
As Catholic Christians, we are committed to God’s Kingdom of justice, peace and love of neighbour, not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of all people. For together we all make up the family and the community that is our society. And we all seek the recognition of the dignity of each person among us and the assurance of the rights of everyone in a society marked by security and peace.
Yours sincerely in Christ Most Rev. Daniel J. Bohan, Archbishop of Regina