Yes,but…. Biblical answers to common excuses for not paying a Living WageRichard Lundie
The topic of paying a living wage is often an emotional one. No one likes to pay more for something if they can pay less. This is simple human behaviour. God’s people are called to be good stewards of their finances, but never at the expense of others. What follows below are some typical excuses given by people who are pushing back against paying a living wage, with a response framed from a biblical perspective. We are not trying to pick a fight, but rather allow our hearts to be shaped by God’s word and Spirit and be more faithful to him.
A few Common Ground congregational leaders were asked to weigh in on these excuses. Here are their responses.
I pay what I can afford.
Luke 14:28: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Jesus challenged His disciples and drives home the point that everything has a cost to it and we need to be those that count those cost before taking on opportunity.
For the Christian employer it is important to think through prioritizing paying our employees the right wage and then determining how many days or hours of that appropriate wage we can afford to pay. Looking to cover things like transport for the days that your employee is another way greatly benefiting our employees.
I send my domestic worker home with a bag of groceries every day/month/year.
God is calling us to be generous and kind to everyone, including our Employees. Giving your domestic worker groceries is not the substitute for deserved salary. She is using transport, buying food and providing for her family. Groceries alone will not provide for other needs.
As written in Deuteronomy 24:14-15, “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns. “You shall give him his wages on his day before the sun sets, for he is poor and sets his heart on it; so that he will not cry against you to the LORD and it become sin in you”.
I’m going to cut back hours to get to a living wage ‘rate per hour’ that I can afford
This is a helpful thing to do, as it frees someone else up to get other employment. Take care, however, that you don’t cut back on hours in a way that actually prevents the person from getting other work – eg paying the same, but cutting 2 hours off each day. This doesn’t really help them get other employment elsewhere to top up their earnings. In this way, you may be defrauding a worker, as Malachi 3:5 describes, “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty”. Strong words, aren’t they? We may, to the outside world pay a living wage per hour, but still be part of a system that keep someone earning below living wage overall in their lives.
It’s simple economics. Supply and demand or A low salary is better than no salary.
It may feel like it is a good thing to pay someone ‘something’, rather than not employing someone. Yet the fact that someone said ‘yes’ to work that pays less than a living wage does not make the employer innocent of exploiting someone. Amos 8:5-7 is a harsh indictment against the rich who trampled the needy in pursuit of their own gain. Even if someone would accept something less, consider your position before God: are you innocent of exploiting someone’s desperation?
It’s not my problem that she has to feed her kids. I shouldn’t have to care about her home situation.
Psalm 107:40-42 (ESV): 41 “… he (God) raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. 42 The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.”
Psalm 107 gives us a window into the Love of God. v41 Shows us God is the God with a heart for the poor. He lifts them up and tends like a caring shepherd to their families. v42 Asks the question of us: Are we with God in this, or do we shut ourselves off from this ongoing work of God. Not caring for the poor, or their families is simply not the way of God, or his followers.
My domestic worker steals from me.
There’s an incredible little book in the Bible called Philemon – in it we meet an employee (Onesimus) who seems to have stolen in some way from his employer (Philemon). Paul the Apostle has ministered to this employee, and writes a letter to Philemon – urging him to take him back! On what basis? Interestingly, not primarily that Onesimus has “changed his ways” but on the basis that Philemon should view Onesimus not first as an employee, but as a brother – to deal with the issues at hand and move forward with high levels of trust and honour. As you wisely discern how to engage with an employee who steals, remember that the message of Philemon calls us to pursue reconciliation.
Raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment
Before you consider economics and broad-scale salary changes in industries, consider your own heart. Is this a reasonable explanation for paying someone in your employ a low amount? Is this a legitimate concern of yours for the economy, or is it a justifiable excuse to not pay someone more? Whilst these verses don’t talk economics, they talk heart, Psalm 139:23-24 encourages us to ask God to shine his spotlight on our hearts and the motives we have: “Search me, God, and know my heart;test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me,and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Also: how would you feel if your employer said to you: you are not getting an increase because it will increase unemployment.
My taxes provide her with free healthcare/education/etc
We are in a country that has a large social support ‘net’ to catch people who are in need and stop them from being destitute. The Biblical call, however, is first to care for those within your sphere of influence. Don’t pay people so little that they have to use the state-supplied services. Proverbs 3:27 puts it this way: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.”
I am not rich either. I am paying what I can.
One of the immense challenges we face in South Africa is income disparity. Our hearts always chase after money, going after more, without recognising where we ‘fit’ compared to what others are earning. We tend to feel that we earn less than most others. Have a look at what your salary is like compared to the bulk of the country. https://www.saldru.uct.ac.za/income-comparison-tool/
We trust that as you have grappled with this topic, you have had a good examination of your heart around this complex and nuanced topic. Many times we don’t scrutinize the excuses we have through the lens of scripture. We trust that, in the limited space we have, we have been able to shine some light onto how scripture can shape our heart response.