THE LIVING WAGE
By Dr. M. H. Durrani
What is the Islamic teaching for a "Living Wage"? Are not employers and workers free to agree on whatever wages they like? Is not free contract a just contract?
The question of labour and wages is particularly important in deciding the economic pattern of any given society, and as such, it has been given due consideration by Islam.
Islam teaches us that we should give up struggling and striving for wealth and possession but we should trust our Most Merciful Allah to supply us with everything necessary on the right time, without fail. If we serve in this way, then whatever we may need in the way of supply will come to us just at the right time and we are provided for from the cradle to the grave.
In this respect, the first principle which has been introduced by Islam is that both society and Government should see that the basic necessities of every individual are fulfilled. This principle was most clearly illustrated by Hazrat Omar in the following statement:-
"Even if a camel dies of hunger on the banks of Euphrates I shall be held responsible for it."
This is a general principle under which the worker gets the security of basic necessities of life for himself and his family. There are also other principles which directly deal with the workers as might be seen in the following statements of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.):
1. God asks the angels:
"What is the reward of a worker when he completes his work?"
The angels reply:
"His reward is that he should be given full wages."
The hadith lays down the principle that the employer should not be miserly and should pay the worker his full
wages. How can the wages be termed as full if they fall short of even the basic necessities of life?
2. "Pay the labourer before his sweat is dried."
This hadith of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) lays down yet another principle which demands from the employer
to pay the full wages and pay it promptly.
3. "Do not impose on a worker the amount of work which he cannot conveniently perform."
The reduced number of working hours in our modern times is an explanation of this hadith.
4. Hazrat Abdullah Ibn Masood was once beating his servant for some fault, when suddenly he heard someone
"Abdullah, forget not that Allah has more authority over you than you have over your servant."
Hazrat Abdullah Ibn Masood turned about to see who it was, and lo and behold! It was the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) himself. This hadith lays down the principle that the employer should fear God in his dealing with his workers.
After formulating these principles with regard to labour and wages, Islam has allowed society to work under the natural principle of demand and supply which helps the employer and the employee to come to a mutual understanding. This liberty has been allowed in order to preserve the economic pattern of society which is most advantageous in many respects.
Islam, however, has not ignored the possibility of a conspiracy among the capitalists to deprive the workers of fair wages by agreeing among themselves on minimum rates. If any such condition arises, the government has been authorized to step in and amend the situation, according to the Rulings of the Prophet (S.A.W.) as directed by Holy Qur'an.
For wise rulers these are danger signals; and irresponsible ones would ignore them. They dare not let the present conditions, which are favourable to a Communist Revolution, continue without making an effort to check them. The experiment is too horrible to think of.
The deciding factor would be moral law of justice between man and man, between man and society, and between one nation and the other. If we read history we shall find that the rise and fall of nations has been taking place according to certain moral laws, which are both national and universal. God destroys the nations which transgress them, however mighty they may be. It has been happening continuously without fail, ever since the dawn of history. There is, therefore, absolutely no doubt that it will happen again and the same way in future as well. No Nation, whether Muslim or Non-Muslim, can escape the laws of retribution.
The first thing Islam teaches is that a worker should be given full wages even if he agrees to the minimum rate of payment on account of his ignorance of the nature and amount of work, or he is willing to accept the minimum payment on account of his personal needs, - a man cannot live without food. A free contract, therefore, if brought about by economic force is utterly unfair. As a rule, employer or workman may agree freely as to wages, nevertheless there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and more ancient than any bargain between man and man, viz. that remuneration ought to be sufficient to support the wage earner in reasonable and frugal comfort. If through necessity or fear of worst evil, the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of an injustice.
Nature or God has given every man with his human nature, the right to form a family and to provide for it in a decent way. When nature or God gives a right there is also necessarily given somewhere, somehow in the world at least sufficient means in normal circumstances to fulfil or properly exercise that right: for God does nothing in vain. But the only way the worker can provide for his family is by his labour. Therefore, it is in the very law of nature that the value of a man's labour be sufficient at least to bring up a normal family. Thus, the dignity of the human person normally demands the right use of earthly goods as the natural foundation for a livelihood, and to that right corresponds the fundamental obligation to grant of private property, as far as possible, to all.
As the average worker is a married man, the living should be sufficient to enable him to provide for his wife and children, and lay aside some money for the rainy day. However, Islam requires all the members of society to live in a free atmosphere, and those burdened with debt must be freed of their burdens, when those people who are strangers in country to whatever religion or nation they may belong.
This view of Islamic teachings show that according to the Holy Qur'an the service of humanity and the amelioration of the condition of the poor has always been the principal aim and object of Islam.
In all matters of wages it is important to understand the meaning of real wages. A real wage is measured by what your wages or money can buy. The rising or lowering of the prices of goods alters the value of money and wages. Suppose one pound of flour cost 50 Paisa, then two Rupees 50 Paisa of wages will buy five pounds of flour. If the price of one pound flour changes to 25 Paisa, the two Rupees 50 Paisa will buy ten pounds. But if the flour goes high, then for two Rupees 50 Paisa you get less than five pounds. Therefore, if price goes up and wages remain the same, real wages fall. The preservation of life, however, is the bounden duty of one and all, and to be wanting therein is a crime. It necessarily follows that each one has a personal right to procure what is required in order to live; and the poor can procure that in no other way than by what they can earn through their work. Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, the wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil, the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.
If a workman's wages be sufficient to enable him to support himself comfortably, 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. Nature itself would urge him to do this.
Now this programme cannot, however, be realized unless the proletarians be placed in such circumstances that by skill and thrift, they can acquire a certain moderate ownership. But how can he save money, except from his wages and the practice of thrift, who has nothing but his labour by which to obtain food and the necessities of life?
In the first place, the wages paid to the working man must be sufficient for the support of himself and his family. It is right indeed that the rest of the family contribute according to their power towards the common maintenance, as we see particularly in the families of peasants, but also in those of many artisans and small tradesmen. But it is wrong to abuse the tender years of children or the weakness of women. Mothers should carry on their work chiefly at home, or near to it, occupying themselves in caring for the household. Intolerable and at all cost to be abolished is the abuse whereby mothers of families, because of the insufficiency of the father's salary, are forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the domestic walls, to the neglect of their own proper cares and duties, particularly the upbringing of their children. Every effort must, therefore, be made that fathers of families receive a wage sufficient to meet adequately normal domestic needs. The dignity of labour demands, not only a just wage, adequate to the needs of the workers and his family, but also the maintenance and development of a social order which will render possible and secure a position of private property, however modest, for all sections of the community.
Everyman has by nature the right to possess property as his own. This is one of the chief points of distinction between man and the animal creation. For the brute has no power of self-direction, but is governed by two main instincts. On this very account that man alone among the animal creation is endowed with reason - it must be within his right to possess things not merely for temporary and momentary use, as other living creations do, but to have and hold them in stable and permanent possession; he must have not only things that perish in the use, but those also which, though they have been reduced in use, continue for further use in the future.
DUTIES OF EMPLOYERS:
In saying this, we must not overlook the fact that all employers are bound to give just wages to their workers when they have the money to do so. For it is not merely a question of good or bad business, it is also very much a question of morality, of right and wrong, of charity and justice, of what is wrong or not. The payment of just wages is therefore a first charge upon any industry. That is to say, there should be no question of dividing our profits among shareholders before those who own or are in-charge of the direction of the firm have made certain that they are paying all their employers properly and fairly.
Unfortunately, this is by no means the spirit of all employers and shareholders. Quite a number of them still appear to think that the making of the highest profit possible is the first aim of industry and that the wages of the workers should have only a second place, while the rights of the consumer come last, if they have any place at all.
The employer is bound to see that the worker has time for his religious duties; that he be not exposed in a way to neglect his home and family, or to squander his earnings. Furthermore, the employer must never tax his work people beyond their strength, or employ them in work unsuited to their sex and age. His great and principal duty is to give everyone what is just. Doubtless before deciding whether wages are fair, many things have to be considered; but wealthy owners and all masters of labour should be mindful of this - that to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the destitute for the sake of gain, and to gather one's profit out of the need of another is condemned by all laws, human and divine. To defraud anyone of wages that are his due is a crime which cries to the avenging anger of heaven.
Wages therefore should be sufficient not only for a moderately comfortable life, but sufficient for saving as well. Less that this is unjust. The payment of this wage should be the first charge upon industry.
Behind all this is the clear idea that the whole purpose of life is not to make it pleasant and comfortable and dignified for a few lucky people, but to make it reasonably easy as far as the material conditions go for people to develop their characters in the love of God and fellowmen. Industry is not a part of life where God comes on the second place, but God comes first and His laws and the world as a whole would be much better off if industry was more drenched in the Laws of Nature and of God, because essential purpose is to preserve, develop and perfect the human person, body and soul, by facilitating the due fulfillment and realization of the religious and cultural laws and values which the Creator has assigned to every man and to the human race, both as a whole and in its natural groupings. But this is made exceedingly difficult for those who are not paid fair wages or who have to go short of the commonly accepted necessities of life.
Yet in all this, it must not be thought that it is always a very easy and simple task for the employers to pay good wages to their workers. In this difficult question three main things have to be considered:
Firstly, the wage paid to the working man must be sufficient for the support of himself and his family.
Secondly, in setting the amount of wages one must also take into account the business and those in charge of it, for it would be unjust to demand excessive wages, which a business cannot pay without ruin, and with consequent distress amongst working people themselves.
Finally, let us say that the more faithful employers and owners of capital carry out their duties towards their workers, the more happy those workers will be in their tasks and more ready they will be to see and to be grateful for the fact that those leaders in industry are using their savings and brains and energies and organizing abilities for the true benefit of the workers as much as for themselves.
This being so, there appears then to be three important facts for us in this life:
Firstly, that man should be brought nearer to God in worship and to a clearer understanding how God wants men to live together in family, industrial, civic and social life.
Secondly, that men should work together and arrange their affairs, carry out their duties and respect one another's rights that the good things of God's world should find their way in fair proportions to all honest men and families.
Thirdly, we must learn to love what He loves. Man can never say that he loves God sincerely, if he hates what God loves.
We should never forget but always keep vividly in minds whoever has received from the Divine bounty a large share of temporal blessings whether they be external and material, or gifts of the mind, has received them for the purpose of using them for the perfection of his own nature, and at the same time, that he may employ them, as the steward of God's Providence, for the benefit of others.
Those who have wealth in abundance should not rest their hopes or happiness upon it or devote their best energies in increasing it. Recognizing that they are nothing more than stewards of such possessions, and that they will have to render an account of them to God, they must use their riches as a powerful means which God has given them for leading a virtuous life and render to give their superfluous good to the poor, for the glory of God.
Material goods, therefore, are only a means to a higher end. Every man has a right to sufficiency of them to enable him to live a decent life and there is something unjust about a society that does not provide every family with the opportunity of getting this sufficiency. Therefore, theses goods should be sufficient both to supply all the necessities and reasonable comforts, and to uplift man to that higher standard of life which, provided it be used with prudence, is not only of no hindrance but is of singular help to virtues.
But we must say again that material goods are meant not to rule the soul but to help it onwards and upwards to God. Our Creator, and not His creation, must be our first and chief love. The soul that "sells" itself for money will not find its peace and true happiness.
"Whoever does good, whether male or female, and he is a believer, We shall most certainly make him live a happy life, and we shall most certainly give them their reward for the best of what they did" (Ch.16 v.97).