Are workers’ rights a modern invention born out of the trials and tribulations of the industrial revolution? Everyone’s heard of the horrors of the sweatshops, child labor abuses and other workplace issues that, sadly, sometimes still take place today.
It should be known, however, that workers’ rights were a concern long before sweatshops, and that workers' rights were addressed in many different ways by the Torah. One of the classic examples of workers’ rights in the Torah is with regard to the payment of wages. First mentioned in Leviticus 19:13, the Torah states: “...the wages of a hired servant shall not abide with you all night until the morning.” When a person hires a day laborer, the worker must be paid, without delay, before the beginning of the next day.
While this seems obvious--a man is hired to build a shed, he finishes the job and you pay him--there are many cases and situations in which a person might not be so careful. What about the teenage babysitter for whom you have forgotten to have cash on hand? It’s happened to all of us. This rule also applies to artisans...a customer is responsible for paying a worker upon receipt of the work he/she was to have done (for instance when a tailor delivers a new suit).
Often, a casual employer doesn’t realize how much a delayed payment can affect an employee. Perhaps the employee has debts that are due or a babysitter that must be paid. Perhaps it is simply that the employee had intended to use the money to make a particular purchase that evening.
The Torah’s views on workers' rights serve to remind us of the compassion one must always
feel for human beings.
This Treat was originally posted on September 8, 2009.
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