The Dignity of Work and Rights of Workers


The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected–the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Prayer of Reflection

Creator God, thank you for providing us with the gift to share our talents through work. We pray that all workers may receive respect and protection of their rights, and that the unemployed may receive the opportunity to contribute to the common good. We ask this in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit now and forever.



Read from the Bible

  • 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. Genesis 2:15
  • 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to our food and drink? …7 Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk? 8 Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law also say the same? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? 10 Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop. 1 Corinthians 9:3-4,7-10
  • 12 Observe the sabbath day—keep it holy, as the LORD, your God, commanded you. 13 Six days you may labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your ox or donkey or any work animal, or the resident alien within your gates, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. Deuteronomy 5:12-14
  • 26 To take away a neighbor’s living is to commit murder; 27 to deny a laborer wages is to shed blood. Sirach 34:26-27
  • 13 Woe to him who builds his house on wrongdoing, his roof-chambers on injustice; Who works his neighbors without pay, and gives them no wages. Jeremiah 22:13

Read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church 

  • “In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work. (213) Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community” (CCC, no. 2428)
  • “Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination: men and women, healthy and disabled, natives and immigrants. (218) For its part society should, according to circumstances, help citizens find work and employment” (CCC, no. 2433).

Read from the Letters from the Popes


  • 127. We are convinced that “man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life”.[100] Nonetheless, once our human capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it becomes easy for the meaning of work to be misunderstood.[101] We need to remember that men and women have “the capacity to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and to develop their spiritual endowments”.[102] Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God. It follows that, in the reality of today’s global society, it is essential that “we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone”,[103] no matter the limited interests of business and dubious economic reasoning.
  • 128. We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines. This is yet another way in which we can end up working against ourselves. The loss of jobs also has a negative impact on the economy “through the progressive erosion of social capital: the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence”.[104] In other words, “human costs always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs”.[105] To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.

Reflections from the Poor Handmaids and Saint Katharina Kasper

Whether making bricks from straw and clay, breaking rocks for road material, working in the farm fields or weaving cloth at home, Katharina Kasper in her early years exemplified the dignity of physical work.  Also as leader of the congregation, while she spent much time traveling by foot or cart to visit the Sisters and their ministries or tending to legal, community or church matters she did not find it beneath her to continue helping in the cleaning, gardening, or field work.  For her all work was service to God’s people and therefore deserved full respect. While her vocation was to religious life her avocation was her natural talent for nursing and she continued to offer this hands-on ministry throughout her life.  She also used her God-given talent for leadership, discernment and ingenuity in times of congregational struggle or crisis.

During Katharina’s time it was the norm to give orphans to those people in the village who asked the least amount for their care. These children had only duties and responsibilities, but no rights and were often maltreated.  Katharina saw such children suffering in her immediate surroundings.  From the beginning she tried to help these unfortunate children in a two-fold way: she offered them food, lodging , and safe conditions of life by bringing them into the convent; and she created a school for their education, trained them in useful work that in time would allow them to mature in independence and a sense of responsibility. The intent was that when the orphans left the care of the Sisters they would have a sense of dignity, self-worth and a start in life through meaningful and sustaining work.

Over the years the Poor Handmaid Sisters in America continue to support the rights of workers by joining boycotts, supporting the rights of seasonal farm workers, addressing political representatives regarding policies and laws to protect workers and by monitoring our own corporate responsible investing. As the economy becomes more global and complex we are challenged to keep pace in our present ministries with the rights of workers and the justice issues involved in their protection and opportunity for advancement.

Examples from the Foundation’s Work

As the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation encounters vulnerable individuals, we regularly observe that work and the ability to produce leads to purpose, healing and hope. Furthermore, a “just wage” is essential to maintain dignity and the personal security of the worker and their family. We have:

  • Provided operating support to area nonprofits enabling them to compensate their workers with competitive wages and benefits
  • Supported legal assistance for immigrants and refugees which helps them obtain documents and work permits to be able to work in the United States
  • Supported organizations that provide case management support to single mothers while they enhance their skills and secure educational degrees to attain good employment and financial independence.


  • How do we support the dignity of those we work with?
  • What community partners demonstrate exceptional care for their employees?
  • Beyond a living wage, how can employers best support their employees?
  • What are the biggest challenges workers face in our community today?
  • What situations or environments make access to dignified employment difficult in our community?

Additional Resources

The information above was compiled by Meg Distler, Mary Tyndall, and Mark Burkholder as a student capstone project for the Catholic Social Tradition and Philanthropy course offered by the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame, and the Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) in the Summer of 2023.