Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Markets and Wages (4)

The other situation where the Instructions for Economic Life put constraints on the free markets was in the labour market. The employer is a neighbour of the employee. This gives the employer a moral obligation to ensure that their employee has sufficient to live on. Paying the wage or salary determined by the free market will be fine for most people. The situation is different with people who are poor and needy. The employer must not take advantage of their desperation.

Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it. Otherwise they may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin (Deut 24:14-15).
Most economies will have a large number of people who are poor and needy. This will push the market wage rate very low. An employer is not entitled advantage of the situation by paying the lowest wage rate that they can get away with. An employee who is desperate for work must be treated as a neighbour. They should be paid enough for them to live on.

Jesus confirmed and clarified this principle in the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). The vineyard owner did not pay the market wage rate, he promised to pay the employees “what is right".
Go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right (Matt 20:4).
In every economy there will be a market rate for day labourers. Jesus confirms that there is a rate that is “right”. The Greek word is dikaios, which means righteous. The righteous wage rate may not be the same as the market rate. The employer who wants to do what is righteous cannot just pay the market wage rate. They must take into account what is righteous, as well.

For Jesus listeners, what is right referred back to what is specified by the law. The workers who were employed for the whole day were offered a denarius. That was the accepted rate for a day’s work at that time. The employees who only worked for part of the day were also paid a denarius.
He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard (Matt 20:2).
The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius (Matt 20:9-10).
The employer paid every worker a denarius, even though some had only worked for a few hours, while others had worked for a whole day. In those days, a person needed about a denarius to buy a day’s rations. These people were on the poverty line, living from one day to the next. The employer paid each person enough to buy food for the day, even if they had not worked enough to earn it. He was applying the requirements of the Instructions for Economic Life (Deut 24:15). An employer has an obligation to ensure that his employees have enough food that they will be strong enough to work the next day.

The employer in the parable paid all his employees a denarius, regardless of how long they had worked. This was the righteous wage rate, not the market rate. He knew at the end of the day that they would not be able to earn any more money until the next day. If they did not get sufficient income to buy food, they and their family would go hungry until the next day. The righteous thing was to pay the employees enough to live on to the next day, when they would have the opportunity to earn some more.

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