Updated: Sep 21, 2020
In February of 2018, His Beatitude Sviatoslav was interviewed by Fr. Ihor Yatsiv on a TV talk show called “Open Church.” The theme of the hour was social justice. In bold are some of the questions posed by both Fr. Yatsiv and audience members. His Beatitudes’ answers are translated in full, except where denoted by ellipses.
Patriarch Sviatoslav: When we talk only about a dignified wage, sometimes we set aside the notion of basic human dignity. We understand that a person isn’t supposed to only live off of what they make, and cover their most basic needs. But for a person to feel dignified, they need to know that society and their employer respects them and helps them grow—to realize their maximum potential. The responsibility isn’t only to cover things like groceries, housing, but also the development of a person’s gifts and talents, both spiritually and culturally.
When we talk about wages, it’s a shame that we subconsciously accept that a minimum wage is somehow enough. But at the moment, our minimum wage cannot support the dignified growth of a person [in Ukraine]. The Church doesn’t offer a dollar amount, or preferred salary. Instead, we demand that a person should be able to, for example, afford an education. We know that, particularly high-earning or skilled individuals need to spend a lot of time, money, and energy upfront to earn the skills and get their job. But even that aside, any person in their given situation, their given experience, and their given job, should be able to grow in a dignified manner. In the eyes of the Church, this is the basis of a dignified wage.
What about under-the-table work, freelance labor, and the gig economy?
These are great shame and injustice to the worker because, on one hand, this kind of labor doesn’t guarantee certain social insurances, so it’s already undignified for the person who is sacrificing their skills, strength, time, and attention to work. On the other hand, this is a great shame for the state because it can’t independently grow, and guarantee the common good. So an employer isn’t only supposed to feel a responsibility to their shareholders, they should also bear social responsibility.
Today, good managers--the kind who know how to develop their businesses well--understand that they must also invest in their workers. Obviously, this shadow economy means rejecting investment into an individual who works. This kind of situation is bad for both the employer and the employee, because rarely does an employee want to work in this kind of situation for long. They don’t feel respected.
It was very interesting to see after the Revolution of Dignity how people rejected under-the-table pay. The state should create an environment that motivates employers to conduct business in the open.
I suppose some of this has to do with the need to pay taxes. Some would argue that if you have to pay everything you’re required to, that would be a lot of money. Would you say that this is an employers contribution to the growth of the country?
We should get used to the fact that we have an obligation to pay taxes, because if we don’t, we surrender the opportunity to build up our state. But, without a doubt, when it comes to the amount of taxes—that pressure you describe—there has to be fairness between the state and the workforce. The state should respect those who create business, and spaces for development of her citizens. Unfortunately, I feel that these relations between honest employers, honest employees, and an honest state haven’t been cultivated.
The amount someone should get paid of great spiritual importance too--either because somebody is willingly or unknowingly underpaying their employees, or not giving them raises over time.
If we were going to talk about the moral rule, then I would like to bring up two moral problems. Paying an unfair wage is a sin. Low-wages are a moral offense against individuals. Obviously, some people are forced to take that kind of work, because there are few other options. This is an infirmity on the labor market. We’ve all learned how tragically states have collapsed from exploiting workers. Unfair wages are a sin in their own right.
The second moral issue is to delay, defer, or withhold wages. Even when someone is forced to take a poorly-paying job, sometimes the employer delays payment. According to the teaching of the Church, this is also a mortal sin, akin to homicide, because a person who doesn’t pay their employees withholds the ability of a person to live.
Our Synod of Bishops has, on several occasions, condemned employers who unrightfully withhold wages from their employees. Here, we see two problems: the sin of unfair wages, and the sin of deferred wages.
We’ve all learned how tragically states have collapsed from exploiting workers.
How can we convince society to value arts, music, culture? Why is it that people who contribute so much spiritually and culturally, have to do so as volunteers?
This is very painful for me. My mother was a music teacher her entire life. As a teacher, she raised so many of our children. It’s very painful people don’t quite understand how important it is to develop culture and education. It’s a completely false conceit that a country that’s facing economic hardship, or war, can afford to set culture on the back-burner. This is a very dangerous idea. If this is what we do, then we expose ourselves to spiritual and cultural colonization. We must grow in all directions, especially in art, culture, education, science, because they are an integral component in the defense of a nation. If a government doesn’t understand this fully, then perhaps they don’t understand their role and function. This is not only in the defense of the arts, but also in its development.
Is out-migration a social justice issue or is brain drain a problem?
Many of the people who migrate, don’t often find work or a fair wage where they end up. Why? Because most countries turn their attention away from the fair treatment of immigrants, especially illegal immigrants. Their labor is sorely exploited, and they are paid absolutely rock-bottom wages that an Italian in Italy, or a German in Germany, would never dream of accepting. Of course, in some countries, wages seem higher, but the price of living is also higher.
Our Church strives to be a source of social justice, not just in Ukraine, but also for those marginalized and silenced. We defend the rights of immigrants, even undocumented ones, all over the world. We care about their dignity. We demand their fair wages, no matter where they are.
So, I would urge people not to listen to those urging to migrant so quickly--to buy into the myth that grass is greener on the other side. Taras Shevchenko once said that “it is good where we are not.”
[If we give up on funding art,] we expose ourselves to spiritual and cultural colonization.