7.1.3 Response to Exercise


The following are positive or benefit rights, because, to be upheld, they require that the person positively obtains a specific benefit.  In each case, I have named what this is.  Benefit rights include those…

    • to a minimum wage, i.e. to receive, for work done, a defined minimum level of pay
    • to education – to receive, as a child (let’s assume) teaching for some minimum period
    • to a fair trial – in the event of being charged with a criminal offence, to have unbiased consideration of whether there is evidence that you committed what you are charged with (I comment later on why the right to a fair trial should be seen as a ‘benefit right’, as some might question this)
    • to health care – to receive appropriate treatment when you are ill or injured
    • to social security if out of work – to receive, when you are not earning a wage, enough income to enable you to go on living
    • not to be sacked for no good reason – to continue in employment unless and until the employer has reasons for sacking you (such as the company going out of business).

The following are negative or freedom rights, because, to be upheld, they require simply that a person is not is not interfered with.  Freedom rights include those…

    • not to be enslaved
    • to bodily integrity
    • to marry (or not marry)
    • to life – but see what I say about this below
    • not to be imprisoned without due process of law
    • to form a trade union (or not to do so)
    • to stand for political office in an election (or not to stand)
    • to ownership of property.

Perhaps it is surprising that this last one is in this category.  The reason for this is that the idea of a right to property is generally understood to mean that you have a right to continue to own what you already have, rather than this being taken from you arbitrarily, whether by robbers, corporations or governments.

I have called ‘the right to life’ a freedom right as, in its most immediate sense, it means the right to carry on living without being interfered with in a way that would prevent or threaten that.  It is a right not to be killed.  Nevertheless, while it doesn’t point to a particular thing that must be obtained, and therefore is not a benefit right, it can be seen also as entailing some benefit rights, i.e. to the things necessary to be able to carry on living.  It can be referred to as the right to live.1

Apart from this, the one joker in the pack, which in this Response I have not included in either list, is the ‘right to one day in seven off work, or the equivalent’.  This can seem to be either a ‘freedom right’ or a ‘benefit right’.  It could be viewed as a freedom right because it means that your employer must not interfere with you on your day off, by requiring you to work.  (Some people reading this might immediately react: ‘What chance of that? If only!’)

Yet it can also be seen as a benefit right, because it refers to the duty on an employer positively to guarantee a minimum amount of time off work.  In this sense, it is a positive benefit you receive from the employer, even though it is intangible and not an identifiable thing, like food or social security payments are.

I think it is correct to see this as a benefit right, because it is part of the package of benefits that a person receives by being employed.



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  1. Indeed the translation of Pacem in Terris, #11, at www.vatican.va says, ‘Man has the right to live’.  The Latin is hominem vitae habere ius.