Money over Humanity
Changes to Industrial
Relations in Australia
Catholic Social Teaching sees the basis of society not
in competition but in co-operation.
Our Australian identity and society, long associated with the
fair go, has reflected this. Co-operation and fairness are ideas
bound up with justice and the Common Good - for individuals in
communities and communities as part of the wider society.
The fair go and a co-operative society also includes economic
justice but this is in dire danger of being lost to a competitive
society based in the cult of the individual: where each person
fends for themselves and their own without regard to the Common
Good or the communities of others in which they live and work.
Two broad Howard Government agendas in particular have the capacity
to tear the fabric of our fair society and cause hardship and
suffering to those who are already amongst the poorest and most
vulnerable in our communities.
The Howard Government is proposing sweeping and radical
changes to the industrial relations system. The changes
seem designed to undermine opportunities for workers co-operating
and associating together to collectively bargain for fair outcomes
and as such are contrary to Catholic Social Teaching which upholds
co-operation and workers’ rights to association. The changes
will dismantle a system set up independent of government to balance
the interests of workers and businesses, a system that has been
significantly influenced by Pope Leo XIII’s teaching on
the just wage in Rerum Novarum.
Our IR system since Federation has been “conciliation and
arbitration; a form of collective bargaining with resort to a
neutral umpire.” In recent years workers have had protection
against unfair dismissal and a safety net for wages and conditions
with the “No Disadvantage Test”. Over the years workers
and their unions have also won significant rights to Award conditions
such as superannuation, notice of termination and long service
leave. All these protections and rights are to be removed,
although the Unfair Dismissal laws will still operate for workers
employed by companies with more than 100 employees.
These changes proposed by the Government will likely affect 85%
of Australian workers.
The underlying aims seem to be to push workers into individual
agreements with their employers, tipping the bargaining balance
in favour of the employer, and to replace the independent system
with one of the current government’s choosing. This will
also further tip the balance in favour of the demands of business
rather than the needs of families. Independent wage setting through
the current IR system factors in the living/social needs of people
and communities rather than taking the overly economic view that
business and government prefer.
Catholic Social Teaching privileges labour over capital.
These radical changes will create conditions that privilege capital
over the rights of workers.
The other great concern is the move to force vulnerable pensioners
into this deregulated and unfair employment arena with the Government’s
“Welfare to Work” policy. Recent
research shows that a single mum with one child who does find
work for 15 hours a week at the minimum of $12.75 an hour will
be $92 a week worse off after June 2006. The Federal Government
would be the major beneficiary: Mum will keep just $81 a week
of her $195 a week earnings while the Government takes the other
$114 through reduced NewStart Allowance and increased income tax
payments. There is insufficient appropriate support or training
for people entering or returning to the workforce for the first
time in years and little understanding or concern from the Government
as to the difficulties – transport, out of school hours
care, ongoing health issues – a single parent and/or a person
with a disability such as an episodic mental illness will face
in getting and keeping a job that suits their already challenging
These Government policies will do great harm to those
most disadvantaged and marginalised in our society.
... the burden of providing work for all should
not fall on the low paid but on society as a whole and those who
are unemployed or underemployed must be assured that the work
they seek will provide a just wage that will keep them out of
Bishop Christopher Saunders, Broome
(Pastoral Letter for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker)
Want to know more? Please see the
full Briefing Paper,
Reflection and Learning Circle Guide, and Suggested
Actions on this issue or contact Angela on (07) 3891 5866
to be involved in the IR Circle.
SAO Project Officer
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