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Industrial Relations Campaign

(September 2005)

Money over Humanity
Changes to Industrial Relations in Australia

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Background

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 life circumstances.

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 poverty.

Bishop Christopher Saunders, Broome
(Pastoral Letter for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker)

Want to know more? Please see the full Briefing Paper, Theological Reflection and Learning Circle Guide, and Suggested Actions on this issue or contact Angela on (07) 3891 5866 or angela@sao.clriq.org.au to be involved in the IR Circle.

Angela Ballard
SAO Project Officer
September 2005

 

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