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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Injustice of Unemployment

Incredibly struck by the following passage from a recent Post editorial :

There is more to the question of unemployment than just its economic and social costs, severe as they are in our country at present. Even if unemployment did not impact negatively on the economy, and even if it was not a cause of many of our social problems, it would still be a denial of an essential element of human dignity. Through work, we cooperate with the creator in bringing to fulfillment the created world; we exercise our God-given abilities and talents as co-workers with God in the great task of transforming the material world. Work is not simply an honorous necessity, coincidental with our physical existence, a burden which we should try to escape. It is a vital part of our humanity, the manifestation of our creativity, an opportunity for our growth and fulfillment. Indeed, work is nothing less than a constituent dimension of the purpose for which the world was created and for which we ourselves were brought into being. That so many of our people are denied the opportunity to work is a shameful injustice, especially since it is to a large extent the result of excessive pursuit of economic policies which fail to take adequate account of the inherent value and dignity of the human person. Work is indeed a right, a right which, as a nation, we fail to respect at our peril.
The depth of thought constructed here is something I have not read in any Zambian editorial before. There are several deep ideas here. I like that they recognise justice is grounded in "human worth". This of course is my own conception of justice as expounded by Nicholas Wolterstorff. It is also good that they have noted the creation mandate of man in "the great task of transforming the material world". This gives purpose to our work.  Without God at the centre of our economic activities, it is all meaningless and purposeless.

The only bit that is unclear is the conclusion. If work is a right, we must surely ask what sort of right is it? One would think they regard it as a "conferred right" based on their appeal to the UN, but then they employ "inherent rights" arguments which ground justice in human worth. So one concludes they employment  as  an "inherent right". But of what sort? "permissive rights" or "claim rights"? A human right?   I don't think having a job is a claim right (something we are "naturally" entitled to) but we have a right to having the right to a job. It is the infringement of the right to having the right to a job, that is the problem not the inability to work. With that resolved, it also becomes clear that having a job can never be a human right because having a job is a permissive right - a right we can claim we are permitted to. At best therefore it is conferred.  

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