This is something that has been weighing on my heart for some time now. After witnessing the unjust wages in Guatemala and in Canada, I thought I would share some thoughts.
I collected a few example salaries and made some calculations for daily wages* for different professions in both Canada and Guatemala:
Doctor in Calgary: $724
Top Accounting Executive in Calgary: $479
Lawyer in Calgary: $448
Realtor in Calgary: $354
Teacher in Calgary: $257
Mechanic in Calgary: $214
Sales Clerk in Calgary: $135
Doctor in Guatemala**: $36
Policeman in Guatemala: $23
Teacher in Guatemala: $15
Bank Clerk in Guatemala: $9
Agricultural worker in Guatemala: $3.50
Housekeeper in Guatemala: $2.50
First of all, I accept that there is a very clear difference in cost of living: A doctor in Guatemala is only going to pay $5/hour for work on his car and $15 to have a housekeeper. Guatemalans have no need to heat their homes or build insulated houses. Everyone in Guatemala can travel a fair distance on public transportation with $5, whereas that amount will get you in and out of downtown Calgary on the LRT. But, other costs are quite similar: electricity, petrol, food (slightly less), electronics (slightly more), medication and seeing a doctor cost quite a bit more as to receive adequate services a patient must pursue the private health sector whereas Canadians have universal healthcare and most jobs provide some kind of pharmaceutical benefit. And sure, Calgarians are going to pay a fair bit in tax for many of the services they receive.
Now for an instant, toss out all the figures I've just shared and receive these questions: What is the value of any person's 8 hours of work? Is there a minimum amount that we can say this labour should provide, no matter the skill or education or risk involved? Clean water? Daily food? Health services? Possibility of education for children? Ability to save 5% of wages? Ownership of a home? Opportunity for travel, recreation and creative pursuits?
If we decide that all working persons*** should have these basic needs met, then we ought to consider what the minimum amount each person in the world should be paid for their time and labour. We follow this amount with the adjustment of what multinational corporations end up having to pay for raw materials, foreign production of goods and services that are brought into the first world. If this became a reality, I believe that we in that first world would not be able to afford something as simple as bananas if the banana crop workers were paid to such a standard, let alone coffee, clothing, and electronics. That is unless the wholesale, transport, and retail profit margins were reduced to reasonable levels.
We could also decide that we in the west enjoy far too many excesses that are causing the injustice in poorer nations. Should anyone in the world be making more than $200**** a day? Should any 1 person in the world enjoy luxury when there are 9 lacking most basic necessities?
Tony Campolo makes this distinction (loosely summarized):
Democracy: People are free to pursue the careers they choose to and society benefits when all people enjoy the basic necessities of life. The government's responsibility is to its people. Workplace justice can be a focus.
Capitalism: Reaping maximum profits is the focus. China is the world's best expression of capitalism.
I think we should begin to make that distinction as well and begin to thwart the capitalism in our culture and in our world rather than automatically coupling it with democracy.
*Meaning that their wages are calculated only for those days worked - a teacher works 40 weeks each year, so his salary would be divided accordingly. Most Canadian jobs were given 3 weeks vacation, the Guatemalan ones weren't given any vacation time.
**Many doctors work at public hospitals during the day and then operate private clinics in the evenings and weekends to compensate for the poor daily wages. If they didn't, they would earn about the same as policemen.
***Provisions for non-working persons is another discussion that I won't begin here at this time.
****This is an arbitrary number.