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Upholding Human Dignity in the Economic Sphere

  • 6 Pages
  • Published On: 7-12-2023
1. Introduction

Dignity at work involves treating the people in accordance with the ideal of solidaristic empowerment (Lester, Collins, & Mantouvalou, 2018, p. 86). Human dignity is a status equally held by all persons (Lester, Collins, & Mantouvalou, 2018, p. 77).

A government has the primary task of social inclusion. This will be achieved by ensuring all persons have access to paid jobs. A paid job ensures that the people meet their basic material needs of food and shelter (Lester, Collins, & Mantouvalou, 2018, p. 28). A paid job ensures human’s dignity at work, which is the central to human rights and labour law (Lester, Collins, & Mantouvalou, 2018, p. 68). This essay will critically explore the need of people in economic sectors of dignity of work and while at work

2. The dignity of having a job

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world. They are based on important principles like dignity, fairness, respect and equality (nidirect, 2021).

All human beings are born free and equal and should be treated the same way. Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides any a person as a member of society is entitled to the right to social security. They have the right to realise their right for their dignity. Article 23(3) gives them the right to just and favourable remuneration that will grant him and his family human dignity.

The right to work corresponds with the right to have dignity. The right of work includes the right to be paid for the work done. This means that right to paid work is respecting the right to have dignity while at work.

Work is considered not merely a way to make a living. It is continuously participating in God’s creation. The basic rights of workers are respected if the dignity of work is protected. The basic rights include the right to productive work and to decent and fair wages. The need to work is found in Genesis 2:15 that says, “God settles man in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it.” The work must be paid for as is found in Deuteronomy 24:14-15 that says, ‘Do not withhold wages from your workers, for their livelihood depends on them’ (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2021). Pope Benedict XVI stated that the human person is the primary capital that must be safeguarded as he is the focus, the source and the aim of economic and social life. If the dignity of human work is violated, it results to poverty. Such violation exists due to limited work opportunities or assigning low value to work and the relevant rights including the right to a just wage (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2021).

Popular songs have spoken about work and the right to get paid. Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ talks about the need for a person to go out and get employed as is reflected in the lyrics, ‘Get away. Get a good job with more pay and you're OK" (Forbes, 2007). Bruce Springsteen has multiple songs about working class depicting the need to keep on working. His albums such as ‘The River’ and ‘Born in the USA’ talk about the lives of working class individuals who get paid scarcely (Bumpus, 2017). Humans are meant to work. If one is without work, one would find it difficult to self-identify. Work affects our conscious and unconscious self. We flourish when we work. However, the nature of work including the value in terms of payment also reflects on our identity and dignity.

3. Some issues of dignity whilst at work

It is an obvious justification that a person must have a stable and a good paying job. This is fundamental to their family’s dignity and well being. Without a full employment, a vision of a healthy society cannot be fulfilled (Barkan, 2019, p. 134). However, in reality there is a rising inequality and economic weaknesses. When there is no full employment economy, the workers cannot achieve benefits. They will be at the mercy of the employers and hence, received payment lesser in worth than the work they perform (Barkan, 2019, p. 134).

The worker may lack the required bargaining power to seek raise in payment or other employment or work benefits. As such, according to Mark, workers become destitute and desperate. According to Marx, a work performed for the gain of another is exploitative (Casanova, 2019, p. 111).

In this context, the crucial question is why people need to work? The main reason would be to make a living. However, it is often found that people who are satisfied by their work, money mostly does not come up. People work not for money but for the love of the work they do. Their work offer them autonomy and discretion to develop their expertise and personality. They find meaning of their life and believe that they make a difference to the world (Schwartz, 2015, pp. 1-2). The view of finding meaning in work may not seem relevant in the work environment that is based on productivity. People always fear the changes that new technological advancement has brought to the work culture. The concept of paternalist capitalism, which projects the commercial benefits from good working conditions, may not be able to reduce such fear (Bolton, 2007, p. 73).

The reason may lie in the Taylorist-style of scientific people management. Such style sees workers as machines with the sole objective of growth and profit making by adopting mass production of products (Bolton, 2007, p. 73). This involves longer hours and greater pressure. However, there are mutual distrust between the trade unions and the employers. Management sees workers as parts of the production machinery. As such, workers are dehumanised that leads to unrest and non-co-operation (Bolton, 2007, p. 73).

A work environment that is based on productivity may not be able to adhere to the concept of dignity at work where the humans are dehumanised and the strategic policies and workers’ performances are driven by productivity and profits.

The advent of technology makes production increased manifold. This may also dehumanised workers. It has implication on the dignity of the workers, while in and at work. Dignity at work has multiple aspects. Having a meaningful work may be a source of dignity. However, defining what is meaningful attract various social and economic aspects to it. For example, a worker working for survival may not think about dignity but getting paid and surviving.

The view of personal fulfillment cannot, however, be said about those whose work is monotonous or meaningless. This work is particularly relevant with those who work in factories, warehouses or fast-food restaurant. They do it for pay. There is little reason for doing such work, but for pay (Schwartz, 2015, p. 2).

This is something to think over when one considers the relevance between paid work and dignity. In the kind of work as above, the workers work not for dignity but for just payment. There is a break in the link between paid work and dignity. Not all paid work is for the purpose of protecting one’s dignity. As seen earlier, if the work is for meeting necessities or for survival, the question of dignity may not arise at all.

From a policy consideration, however, it is essential to ensure their dignity. There must be dignity in the nature of work. It is linked with the notion of good work. There must be dignity at work. This is linked with the workplace experiences, where a worker is perceived and valued as a person in his workplace (Bolton, 2007). The file ‘Modern Times’ depicts Charlie Chaplin as a machine‐man, with no understanding of a human body. The character Chaplin played was forced by a machine to eat lunch in the same mechanical rhythmic manner the production process was programmed. This film was made during the time of depression. The character was depicted as working like the programmed machine with rhythmic similarities between the machine and the human body. This violated a certain basic understanding of the human body (Gunning, 2010).

The movie does show that when it is necessity, there is no question of dignity. When it is an age of machine production, the manner of treatment a work receives is defined by the process and objectives of economic production. Humans are seen as resources and a part of the production machinery.

4. Issues of dignity in the public sector

The National Health Services (NHS) is the 3rd largest public sector employer in the world. There have been many concerns related to the work environment where employees are exposed to unsafe working environment. There are cases of bullying and harassment (Elaswarapu, 2016). An announcement was made recently this year to fund projects up to £200,000 available to health boards. The projects are to tackle workplace bullying and harassment and expand the ‘dignity at work toolkit’ to ensure NHS staff feel valued, heard and treated with respect (Public Sector Network (PSN), 2021).

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The current reformative measure mentioned above is unlike the 1997-2007 Blair Governments period where managerialism in public sector was prevalent. There was an increased expansion of managers and senior administrative staff across Britain’s public services (Dorey, 2015). This occurred in the NHS and many universities where a strong emphasis on strategic leadership. They had acquired greater authority exercising power over the public sector professionals, including doctors, teachers and university lecturers, who were obliged to perform stipulated roles and responsibilities with adherence to strategic goals and targets (Dorey, 2015).

Teachers were compelled to teach the prescribed manner. The UK’s universities and academics were told the type of research or publications to focus. Even the academic appointments as well as promotions had relied heavily on meeting the stipulated research requirements. The professionals were more rigorously managed and monitored in terms of their performance (Dorey, 2015). In this context, how different it is from the private sectors where sometime there is monotonous or meaningless work, as which Schwartz (2015) obserevd earlier, people do for pay.

Public sector does not have a HR presence at the top hierarchy. HR functions in the public sector are perceived as a gatekeeper. They support workforce changes designed by senior officers (PWC, 2014). In this light, the government objective of raising productivity to deliver an affordable government becomes a problem. Employees are not clearly communicated by the line managers of the objectives. There is distrust amongst employees their senior managers. Lack of clarity about organisational and personal goals produces lack of autonomy. All of these ultimately affect productivity (PWC, 2014).

The lack of value in the work that public sector employees do could be found in the functions of social workers in child protection programmes. The contemporary child protection is focused more on getting things right instead of doing the right thing (Higgins, 2017). The involvement of bureaucratic aspects of work if become dominant may lose the heart of the work. This has led to a wider role of social work, which are more focused on adhering to the legislative procedural steps. For instance, a social work will have to ensure care proceedings within twenty-six weeks. Such kind of care is focussed on the process rather than doing good or determining what is best for children (Higgins, 2017).

In the context discussed here, how much is there a difference between the bureaucratic process of compliance and that of the Tayloristic approaches in private sector? In both the sectors, human professionals are seen are mere machineries to conduct stipulated performance and achieve set targets.

5. Conclusions

There are types of work that associate or disassociate with dignity. A hierarchical order of the type of work could be found where people could find worth or meaning in the occupation and where it is a matter of survival.

The concept of dignity will find relevance in the work where people find some value or desirability or worth. It may not be the case where the work is the least desirable or monotonous, but is crucially required for life’s necessities. People in all economic sectors deserve both the dignity of work and dignity while at work. However, when the organisations are driven by productivity and are driven by micro-management approach, a sense of monotonous feature comes in with distrust building between the workers and the employers. This is the one commonality between the private and the public sectors. In that case, the sense of dignity takes a secondary priority to survival and economic reasons.


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nidirect. (2021). Human rights in the workplace. Retrieved 02 16, 2021, from nidirect:

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