How we came to pay a living wage…

About 3 years ago, our domestic worker came to us and asked for time off to take her child to the dentist. I decided to go with her to the visit. The child’s teeth were rotten and the dentist asked “Why is your child not brushing her teeth?”, To which our domestic worker devastatingly replied “I can’t afford a toothbrush!”. At the time, we were paying our domestic worker R3500 per month. We thought this was not only fair but actually a high wage as our friends and neighbours were paying on average R2000 per month.

At the same time I had been working with a group of blind and disabled Zimbabwean illegal immigrants and refugees. A friend, who works in marketing, approached me and explained that a client of his required 10,000 scarves to be made for a marketing campaign. The client was prepared to pay R30 for the labour component of each scarf. He had worked out that to knit a single scarf would take approximately 4 hours. This meant that a person could knit two scarves in one day and be paid R60 for the day’s labour. This seemed very low. I said to my friend that I would go home and pray about it.

I searched through the Scriptures, looking in the concordance for words like wage, labour, work, worker, employer and exploitation. What I discovered was eye opening and left me deeply convicted. Throughout Scripture, the onus for setting wages is the responsibility of the employer and Scripture repeatedly warns against those who exploit workers. One Scripture which stood out to me was Isaiah 58. The context for this text is set in verse 3, which says “you live with your pleasures while you exploit your workers”. The text then goes on to talk about five areas:
1) Food (“feed the hungry”);
2) Shelter (“provide the poor wanderer with shelter”);
3) Clothing (“clothe the naked”);
4) Basic needs (“satisfy the needs of the oppressed”); and
5) Things that will break the cycle of poverty (“untie the cords of the yoke”).

As I looked at these five areas, I realised that unless the wages that I paid were providing for all five of these areas, I was exploiting my worker. I realised that I had been setting wages based on norms of what others paid and not on what was right. I realised that the minimum wage to be paid should not be less than what is required to live. As I reflected on this, I recalled many times asking myself the question “How does she live on this?”, but never truly seeking an answer to that question. This led me to the damning conclusion that I had been exploiting my domestic worker.

I decided to phone my marketing friend and tell him that I would not be involved in providing exploitative work and I resolved to immediately try to put this wage issue right with my domestic worker. To do this, I said to my domestic worker that I would cover all of her living expenses for the next three months. I also realised that this had to include her family. In her case she had a working husband and two children ages 6 and 14.  I sat with her and worked out how much she needed in each of these five areas:
1) Food (nutritious food) – as we sat and talked about her food requirements, I realised that this was an area in which her, and many poorer people I have subsequently come to know, significantly compromise in. In the inner-city of Johannesburg, the average working-class family of four, normally survives off about R500 to R1000 a month on food. The diet consists primarily of maize meal, with spinach or cooked vegetables, and the occasional treat of a little meat. Any dietician will tell you that eating in this way for a sustained period will result in a variety of health issues. In order to calculate a nutritious diet, I sat with a dietician and asked her advice on what should be purchased on a monthly basis and on a weekly basis. I then went shopping for the monthly shop with our domestic worker for the first three months. We shopped at Pick and Pay and bought in bulk where we could. I realised after this exercise that her family of four required approximately R2000 per month for a nutritious diet.
2) Shelter (dignified shelter) – we visited our domestic worker at home and found that she was staying in a 5 m x 4 m single room. Her husband and her shared a double bed in that room, while her 6-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son slept on the floor. There was a fridge in the one corner of the room and a small kitchen cupboard with a two plate stove on top of it which the family used to cook. The family shared ablution facilities with about 4 other families on the same floor. This was not the kind of shelter I would have imagined a family staying in where both the mother and father were employed. They paid R 1600 a month for this single room. As I investigated, I found the minimum rental cost of a two roomed apartment with its own ablutions was R2250 per month;
3) Clothing (adequate clothing) – Jesus said that if a man has two coats he should give one away and so the standard here for me was to make sure that everyone in the family had at least one set of adequate clothing for each of the various activities they participated in. We went shopping and ensured that the children had school uniforms, clothing for sports or other activities as was required by the school, that the children had clothes to play in and clothes to sleep in. We did the same for the adults;
4) Basic needs (all of her family’s basic needs) – items we included here were monthly costs for water and electricity, monthly transport costs, monthly cellphone needs,education of the children and groceries (including a toothbrush!). We did not include any costs for health care as we believed these could be obtained for free at the local clinic.
5) Things that will break the cycle of poverty (things like education and savings) – In Rerum Novarum, a papal decree issued by, Pope Leo XIII in 1891 which deals with the rights and duties of capital and labour, he states that if “a workman’s wages be sufficient to enable him to comfortably support himself, his wife, and his children, he will find it easy, if he be a sensible man, to practice thrift, and he will not fail, by cutting down expenses, to put by some little savings and thus secure a modest source of income”. In other words, the wage should provide enough that if managed wisely, the worker will be able to save some money to break out of generational poverty.

Each month I reviewed what we spent in each of the 5 areas and at the end of the period, I had worked out that her family needed at least R9000 to R10,000 per month to live. As she was married and her husband was working, I decided to set her wage at R5000 per month (half of what was required). In order to meet the additional budget required, I looked at the first part of Isaiah 58:3 “you live with your pleasures”. Often we say we can’t afford to pay our workers more because we have extended our standard of living beyond what we need. As I looked at the “pleasures” in my budget that I could do away with in order to ensure that I could pay a living wage to my domestic worker, I quickly found a few areas where I could make a change. There were so many things in my life that I had prioritised over ensuring that she was paid a living wage. I found that by sacrificing a few non-essential items, I was able to pay her justly.

As part of this journey, I have begun to read quite extensively on this issue. I have learned that there is a huge difference between paying a minimum wage and paying a living wage. Minimum wage levels have never kept pace with increases in the cost of living. There are also many implications of us paying a wage which is below that which is required to live, including implications in health care, education, safety and security, and opportunities for breaking free from generational poverty. For me perhaps the most severe of these implications is shortened lifespans – in our HIV/AIDS ravaged nation, the life expectancy of the average South African is currently 52 years. For those who earn under R 5000 per month per family, this life expectancy is significantly reduced. In essence, this means when I pay a wage below a living wage, I am reducing the life expectancy of that person perhaps by as much as 20 years. In the back of my head is the question, “How is this different to murder?”

I have also realised that most of my wealth, privilege, and opportunities have been provided to me because of the structural inequalities which exist and have existed for a long time within society. The South African National Planning Commission list nine challenges facing South Africa as 1) Poor Educational Outcomes; 2) High Disease Burden; 3) Divided Communities; 4) Uneven Public Service; 5) Spatial Patterns which marginalise the poor; 6) Too few South Africans are Employed; 7) Corruption; 8) A Resource Intensive Economy and  9) Crumbling Infrastructure. Underpinning all of these, they argue, are the two root challenges of A) Poverty and B) Inequality. Regarding poverty in Sub Saharan Africa, this region is the only region in the world where the number of poor people (people living below the poverty line) is increasing. Regarding inequality: the levels of inequality in South Africa have rapidly increased since 1994. Economists now tell us that South Africa has the dubious distinction of being labelled as the most unequal society in the world. This means both the number of poor and the gap between rich and poor has been getting worse, not better in South Africa since 1994.

The issues we face as a nation are huge and are going to require considerable effort to overcome. Martin Luther once said:

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

In South Africa, it is clear that the biggest battle for justice that we face has to do with the double-sided pernicious enemies – poverty and inequality. This is where we need to engage the world the most if we want to create a society which is just.  I honestly believe, that paying a living wage to workers is not only just, but is probably the single most important thing we can do to address poverty and inequality in our country. Furthermore, as we pay a living wage, and workers are able to purchase nutritious food, live in decent shelter, buy adequate clothing, provide for all of their basic needs and have space in their budgets to save and invest so that future generations do not need to live in poverty, we will find not only is poverty and inequality being addressed, but we will also find a reduction in the other challenges facing South Africa. The time is now for us all to review whether we are paying a living wage.

 

 

34 Comments

  1. Tracy /

    Thank you Nigel! We have traveled a similar journey with our gardener & his family. What is your response to those who wish to pay their domestic worker or gardener a fair wage but themselves are struggling? I’m not talking here about people who eat take away food, enjoy regular vacations & have DSTV & the latest smart phones. I refer here to families who genuinely might only have R500 a month to pay a once weekly gardener or domestic worker, and due to the high levels of unemployment & poverty many are willing to work for this (and even less, sadly). What do you believe is right in that circumstance? I know that many are able to pay more but don’t, preferring to exploit desperate people, but that is NOT who I’m referring to.

    • Mike Jones /

      I would say that they should only work the man for the time they can afford to pay him sufficiently. If it is fair to pay a once weekly gardener R1000 (I don’t life in S.A., I don’t know what is fair) for that day, only have him work a half day and pay him the R500. That way, the worker is still able to earn that money, but is also able to work elsewhere with the rest of his time to earn additional income.

    • NigelBranken /

      Hi Tracy, thanks for your question.My advice would be to sit with the worker and work out what is required to live off in a day. On the basis of this, we can then work out how much of a man or women’s labor we can afford. We cannot buy what we cannot afford. This may result in the gardening being done less days a month, but at least the gardener can then go and get work on the days he/she is not working with someone else.

  2. Lynne Smit /

    Nigel, this is an excellent article. The challenge for us all is to follow the example

  3. Andy /

    An inspiring article. Christianity in the real world, flesh and blood, as it is supposed to be. One thing to note is that in SA certain communities are very patriarchal (more so than average middle-class), and this can have its challenges when it comes to females earning well for their families. In the experience of my in-laws, their female domestic worker (who was well cared for by them) ended up having to pass on much of the benefit to older males in the extended family, who sometimes squandered it. Perhaps there are ways to follow up on certain things after payment/giving. It certainly should not stop people taking proper care of their workers – fellow human beings who will stand next to us on judgement day. Well done on the article – I hope it challenges many people!

  4. nice touch, though only treating the symptoms (like charity) and not the cause; there’re R400.000.000.000 profit made every year through securitization alone, which is only one of many banking schemes, under the veil of secrecy, covered up by the corporate governments and the banks, not one cent is helping this country or its people… this is where the money and wealth is, rightfully so for the people; sharing is great & noble, i agree that most of the rich people in camps bay or bishopscourt could certainly do with some wealth management and that any of us could probably spare enough to enable a better life for someone else, but it is also an act of complicity to simply succumb to the circumstances, since now is the time where we will succeed and disempower our governments and those behind it…

  5. Nicholas Spaull /

    While this may work for domestic workers and conscientious Christians and I’m not saying he shouldn’t do it, but as an economist I have to say that these things are actually more complicated than he is making it out to be. Let’s have dinner when you are back and we can chat about this. The agency of the poor (i.e. allowing them to make decisions for themselves rather than precluding them from accepting a wage which we deem to be too low – especially when unemployment is the alternative) and the scalability of this kind of logic into business and the economy are very shaky. Speaking about global poverty eradication and paying people a “living wage” are sometimes opposite ends of the spectrum, ironically

    • Isabel Tarling /

      I agree – we are often very quick to ignore agency in favour of our idea of what others’ SHOULD be doing or SHOULD accept or do. I have seen many displaying agency lift themselves from all manner of situations while other remain stuck no matter how much is done to help them. Have you looked at Bourdieu’s concept of intertia of the habitus which he terms hysteresis?

    • Jonathan Waldburger /

      Nicholas, perhaps the same encyclical by Pope Leo XIII that Nigel quoted from in his post best answers the point you raise:

      Let it be granted, then, that worker and employer may enter freely into agreements and, in particular, concerning the amount of the wage; yet there is always underlying such agreements an element of natural justice, and one greater and more ancient than the free consent of contracting parties, namely, that the wage shall not be less than enough to support a worker who is thrifty and upright. If, compelled by necessity or moved by fear of a worse evil, a worker accepts a harder condition, which, although against his will he must accept because an employer or contractor imposes it, he certainly submits to force, against which justice cries out in protest. (Rerum Novarum, n. 45)

      The Catechism of the Catholic Church also puts it quite well:

      A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay, both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good (Gaudium et Spes, n. 67). Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages. (CCC, n. 2434)

    • Stephen Taylor /

      I agree with Nicholas. The important distinction to make is between how the world should be run and how Christians should operate. In a world full of self-interested individuals a higher minimum wage may lead to higher unemployment – the poor are poorer and their agency has been restricted. In South Africa we have extremely high unemployment. The priority should therefore be on job creation rather than on improving wages for the employed, especially if there is a trade-off. However, Christians have an opportunity to live in a radically different way to the pattern of the world and in this way to display God’s transforming power and point to Jesus, who put others before himself in the ultimate way. I don’t think I’d stand for a higher legal minimum wage but I do support the challenge to us Christians to aim to pay a living wage as a way to display generosity, love and justice (things we cannot expect to characterise the world but which speak of another kingdom).

      • Stephen I understand the challenge that the idea of a living wage poses to the goals of our economic system (and the system itself), but I don’t understanding your distinction “between how the world should be run and how Christians should operate”. Are you saying it’s okay for non-Christians to pay their employees a wage they can hardly support themselves with? If anything below a living wage is unjust, then what you seem to be saying is the world should be run in an unjust way. Am I misunderstanding you?

        I think it’s important to remember that this isn’t an issue of Christian charity or generosity, but an issue of justice.

        • Stephen Taylor /

          So one theory of social justice that I have found influential is that of John Rawls. The key idea: A just policy is one which maximises the welfare of the worst-off in society. My reason for not necessarily supporting a higher minimum wage: worse outcomes for the worst-off in society, the unemployed. In an economic system where individuals have the freedom to choose whether to employ people or not, and those individuals are chiefly living for themselves, I suspect a higher minimum wage may lead to lower employment. Christians, though, have a new motivation: to follow Christ’s example and serve others. Christians do not live only to gratify themselves in this world but are building up treasures in heaven.

          I am making a distinction between a just policy (one which maximises welfare for the worst-off) and just or virtuous behaviour (but my understanding is that this comes as fruit of an underlying miraculous heart change).

          In this case virtuous behaviour looks like employing somebody at a living wage even though it may make more selfish economic sense to employ somebody for less (in the low-minimum wage situation) or to not employ anyone (in the high minimum wage situation). If people cannot be expected to behave virtuously on average then the low-minimum wage situation leads to a favourable and more just outcome.

          • As I said, I understand how the idea of a living wage challenges the economics you have described above, and I genuinely believe that in holding your view you have the best interests of the poor at heart. But don’t you think there’s something suspicious about holding a position where one seeks a good end (maximum welfare) by means of evil (unjust wages)? Rawlsian secular liberalism is hardly an ally to Christian thought. I mean, can Christians use the same justification to underpay their employees?

            At the very least can we not agree that an economic order that relies on the vast majority of the population being unfairly compensated for their work to be abnormal and unjust? Here’s an excellent and thorough look at the issue from a Christian perspective: http://distributistreview.com/mag/2012/10/the-just-wage/

          • I also don’t see why a miracle has to occur in one’s heart before one can be expected to pay an employee what s/he justly deserves. The law doesn’t let non-Christians off the hook when they fail to satisfy other costs of production, or even when any other demand of justice has failed to be met.

            The only reason employers are able to pay their labourers a wage that offers them no opportunity to relieve their poverty is because those with capital are in a better bargaining position than those without. They know labourers can’t refuse a low wage because their only other option is no wage at all, and the whole economic system treats the price of labour as just another production cost determined by market forces.

            Appealing to “the agency of the poor” (as Nicholas does) is nothing but empty rhetoric when we all know that the position that the poor are in gives them no such agency to begin with. Just because people cannot be expected to behave virtuously doesn’t mean it’s not the government’s duty to protect those against such unethical behaviour. That’s what the law is expected to do in every other area of human interaction.

            Any economic order that has to appeal to the sinfulness of humanity to justify itself is a very sick one indeed, and one that all Christians should be working together to transform or replace.

            I have written on a related topic here: http://africandistributist.blogspot.com/2011/06/invisible-hand.html

      • gentleheretic /

        I am not Christian but completely agree that the minimum wage in SA is far too low and that everyone should have a living wage. This is not a religious issue, it is a humanitarian one.

      • Anna Richerby /

        Hi Stephen. We should remember that there is also a very good economic argument for paying a living wage – the more people earn, the more they spend, and crucially, those who earn a working class income are far more likely to spend their money locally than internationally. Often the money spent by those earning smaller wages does far more to stimulate the economy than the money spent by the rich. I don’t think this is necessarily a zero sum game. I think the fact that we are the most unequal country in the world shows us that most world economies manage successfully with much smaller gaps between the rich and poor.

        I say all of this in the knowledge that I am not a living wage employer, and that I will face significant challenges in my company before I am able to pay a living wage. But I am willing to take them on.

        • Anna Richerby /

          Sorry Stephen, I meant that as a reply to Nicholas!

    • Chris Rowland /

      Hi Nicholas, I must admit I’m loudly cheering for Nigel’s approach.

      But I’m interested in your argument and would love to read up on some of the theory. Do you have any links you could share?

      How does economic theory apply to the global informal economy? For example, what about someone coming from a war-torn country and entering the economy elsewhere? What motivates their decisions around employment?

      In my mind it all comes down to basic human rights – and to what extent we are responsible for fulfilling the basic needs of those we employ. Is our understanding of human rights consistent with our economic thoery? Or do we trust someone else (like government) to fill the gaps that we as employers are creating?

  6. Hi Nigel

    This is a great post and well written. I agree with the “pay a worker a living wage” concept and don’t necessarily base it on what others are paying. But after much thought I keep coming back to why are we using a domestic worker in the first place? Surely we should be able to run our own households without requiring this assistance. I suppose it’s a total luxury to have a domestic or gardener and thus if you have one you should pay them a living wage. I still need to explore the concept of paying someone to do basic tasks like cleaning up behind you, because I feel there is huge merit in doing these yourself whether or not you can afford someone else to do them for you. But the core of your discussion is addressing if you can afford someone not whether you should have someone to do this.

    • Richard Sadie /

      Alex, perhaps an answer to this would be that by hiring a domestic work/gardener you free up your own time (& energy) enough to be able to perform well in your own – higher-paying and likely more time- & stress- demanding – job. This higher-level of income thereby enables you to employ and support somebody else with part of that income.

  7. Jonathan Waldburger /

    This is truly inspiring. Your quote from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum is foundational to understanding this very important issue. When economists tell us that economic growth (and even relieving poverty) relies on very low (non-living) wages they’re basically telling us that obedience to God’s law against defrauding the labourer (one of only four sins the Bible describes to cry out for vengeance) is irrelevant to transforming our broken societies.

    I’ve grappled with similar problems personally and I really appreciate you sharing your personal journey. I’ve attempted to engage with these type of issues in a more theoretical manner here: http://africandistributist.blogspot.com/. Pax Christi.

  8. Alex Steinberg /

    This is a great post and you guys have done a marvelous job with your domestic. I have to recommend a book called Truth and Transformation by Vishal Mangalwadi. If I interpret Vishal correctly (and I of course agree with this view), he says that the Gospel — i.e. someone submitting to the Lordship of Jesus — is the only thing that will break the cycle of poverty.

    So while I commend the action of paying a living wage, I don’t by any stretch of the imagination think that it is the answer to breaking the cycle of poverty and inequality in South Africa (though it will go a long way). In light of that, I’d like to know what kinds of interactions you’ve had with your domestic about their faith? I struggle to know how to help my domestic beyond paying a living wage and meeting ad hoc needs that we’re able to meet.

  9. Nicole A. Joshua /

    Thank you for this challenge. I have just returned from a conference where we attempted to dialogue around politics and the kingdom of God. This post gave me something practical to work with as my husband and I start evaluating how we live, so that we can begin to align our lives with Jubilee principles.

  10. Traveller /

    If only SARS made the salary we pay our staff tax deductible then quite a few of the salary earners would be able to pay their staff a decent salary.

  11. Andrew /

    Its well written and justified thinking about the wages paid. (with or without biblical reference) Wages in SA need to be higher.

    In the last 3 months I have visited Sindiswe’s shack, (my domestic) in Nyanga where her, her husband, and her 6 kids live. I have also been to Vrygrond to Joe, my zimbabwean gardener’s shack where i met his wife and baby.

    Each time I was hosted with pride and delight that I took the time to visit. I think visiting and seeing a person’s home is the first step to understanding their lives and the impact of my/your money as employers.

    It certainly changed my choice around payment.

  12. s_e_a_n /

    Thanks for this article.

    Yesterday our gardener offered to come in on Saturday because Monday is a holiday and he assumed we wouldn’t be paying him. If you’re employing someone and it’s a public holiday, surely you still pay them? I can’t believe there are people that don’t…

    • Nick /

      Absolutely they should be paid for the public holiday without having to come to work. That is the law.

  13. Veronica Zundel /

    Brilliant. This needs to be addressed not just by individuals but by the state. Shame that so few people put ‘wage, labour, work, worker, employer and exploitation’ into a Bible search engine. Most are only interested in searching for personal salvation.

  14. Greg /

    Now that is thought provoking.The major issue that strikes me though is that one person’s “liveable wage” will be different to another’s so does this mean you should pay your domestic worker more if they have four children instead of two or if they are the sole bread winner as opposed to a two income household?

    We’re in a situation where the lady that works for us can take care of her responsibilities (and has made many steps to improve her situation) but her dependants seem to keep adding more to what she has to deal with (children from previous relationships, getting teenage girlfriends pregnant, etc). So do you pay more if the situation becomes more dire and change a salary if things improve, e.g. husband finds a job?

    Surely the most just thing to do would be to pay what the work is worth regardless of the situation of the person performing it and then the most generous thing to do would be to help out over and above that wherever you can?

  15. MikeCilliers /

    All depends how often your domestic works for you. Im guessing the domestic lady in this article works full time 5 days a week? if you only have a domestic once or twice a week then work out a liveable salary based on that. Always endeavour to make their lives better.

    • Hi Mike

      As I looked at it, I found living wage to be generally calculated down to a daily rate… some living wage calculators however use a hourly rate. I think a daily rate is more ethical as it considers that a person can only generally work for one person in a day, so I think that if this is the case, then pay a daily rate regardless of how much work is done. Mat 20:1-16 is a great scripture to study in this regard.

  16. Andre Watermeyer /

    I was so blessed last night, as I watched my wife weep while she read this article
    that she would later share with me. This is one of the most important dynamics of the South African life that needs to be challenged.

    The idea of a living wage is something we’re convicted about, not only through our faith but as Jonothan is saying below, pure principle. And I’ll be honest, we feel like we’re the mad ones in society. So nice to see someone else go, “You know what, I need to address this”. Thanks Nigel.

    I haven’t read all the comments as there are many, but I see a lot of talk about the economic principles at play, as if they somehow point to an irrationality in the idea of paying a living wage.

    Without meaning to offend anyone, but just for the sake of not having to spend an hour sugarcoating, the very, very real issue that is also at play here is our South African history, and the culture that has been handed down to us in white South Africa. It seems to be less economic principles that are dictating the wages of our maids, gardeners etc. and more how we see the people who traditionally fill those rolls.

    I have a sense that if these economic principles were wholly applied, young white maids that we’ve called ‘au pairs’, would not be able to sustain their lifestyle in surburbia. Maybe I just need to get out more, but I’ve yet to meet an au pair that lives in Gugs or Umlazi.

    I don’t understand how we pay our maids just enough to survive in locations, but “au pairs” enough to cover their house share in Rondebosch, their car insurance, petrol, enough savings to get themselves to London the next year, etc.

    I understand how numerically we can come to a conclusion that a higher minimum wage could lead to higher unemployment. However I also understand that if the ‘system’ upgraded it’s price of this sort of labour to something more just, that it wouldn’t mean less money is going in to the South African economy. It would just be entering the market through different participants.

    I can also see how a person who spent less on their own non-necessity luxuries, channelled those savings into paying decent wages to their staff, could create employment. I can see a South Africa where a full-time maid who was paid R2000 a month, now being paid, let’s say R8000, can afford to hire someone in their community to work for them once, maybe even twice a week at a rate of R2000 a month.

    All of that money is still being spent in the economy. I might not be an economist, but in my years majoring in it, the foundational principle I first learnt was that it is this that drives employment rates, not setting the wage level as low as possible.

    I’ve seen it in my own business, as I bring in more revenue I’m able to employ more people in my business. As I bring in more revenue, I’m able to pay myself a higher salary, and thus employ the services of people I couldn’t before.

    I’m not sure how we can categorically say that the result of paying people a just wage is higher unemployment.

    Furthermore, the very economic principles that we hold in the Western world of maximum output for minimum input seem to disappear as soon as we start going anywhere near crossing the threshold of upper management and beyond. In my eyes, the system then holds different economic principles for people of different classes. Christian or not, a system that works on that basis is clearly flawed and will not lend itself to uplifting those who start life in an unfortunate position, but will instead keep them in that place.

    I’ll be honest, especially in a South African context, I’m quite amazed that we’re saying, “Look, the world has it’s market-related ways of doing things and we shouldn’t mess with that. As Christians, however, we must be an example and of generosity etc..”. How are we separating the two?

    The implication still that I’m showing God’s love by being generous, which to many people would mean that in my kind heartedness I’m paying more than I need to. I believe statements like that would further rob my maid of dignity. “Here’s your pay cheque. It’s me being generous and showing you God’s love. It’s not really because this is what you deserve to be paid by me.”

    Also, as Christians, our hope is to see all come to know Christ. However, apparently if all of the world’s population did come to know Christ. Then we would fall into economic turmoil as we’d all hopefully be showing this generosity in how we pay. The economic system would then be one filled with Christian principle. And our world would collapse. I say this in response to Steven’s comment on “how the world should be run” and how “Christians should operate”.

    This is the reality in South Africa: I’m constantly told by my white peers and family that no matter what the cost I should be on medical aid. “It’s absolutely vital for your family. You cannot go to a State hospital these days. A good father and a good husband has his family on medical aid.” To those people, that expectation only applies to me however. Here is where economic factors fly out the window and our cultural views come into play: To say this same concern is held for their maids,gardeners and kitchen staff, fellow humans with families just like you and I.. would be a complete fabrication. The expectation there is that that segment of society can live like that. It’s acceptable.

    If my business were to nose-dive and I lost everything, and my earnings would mean I could only afford to live in a township up the road like Chesterville. I can assure you we would be supported by our friends and family under the well meaning notion “that you can’t put your family in those conditions. No-one deserves to live like that. We wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing you’re there.”

    Yet everyday, we send our maids and gardners to those same ‘unliveable’ conditions without even blinking. Those are not issues of economics but rather of culture and heart.

  17. Margaret Wood /

    WOW what a message it makes you think

  18. Petra /

    Thank you so much, Nigel for enlightening us. Many of us are trying to do the right thing, but few are actually going the extra mile to walk in someone else’s shoes. I plead guilty too, and thanks to your journey and sharing it with us I will be able to become a better fellow citizen too.

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