Industrial Relations Campaign
Changes to Industrial Relations in Australia
and Learning Circle Guide
here for a pdf copy of this document
Australia has a long and proud history of settling
industrial disputes and promoting
co-operation by its almost unique system of arbitration and conciliation.
Over the years, this system has helped to defend the rights of
workers and promote their well-being, while at the same time
taking into account the needs and the future of the whole community.
John Paul II at a Sydney factory during his 1986 visit
The Social Action Office (SAO) has developed a Briefing
Paper outlining the issues and concerns around the Howard Government’s
Industrial Relations changes. The information contained in
the Briefing Paper serves as background information to this
Theological Reflection and Learning Circle Guide and while
it has been written from a perspective of Catholic Social Teaching
we encourage people in ecumenical groups to find other information
and to delve into their own faith traditions for the learning
circle discussions and reflections.
Reflections and Learning Circles as forms and traditions of ‘popular’ education
encourage us to learn and to open ourselves to change through
and reflection and then to turn ourselves towards action.
This Guide offers a suggested process and questions around the
key concerns and critical issues raised in the SAO Briefing
1. Process for the Circles and Reflections
3. Issues Questions
4. Reflection Questions
5. Prayer (pdf
copy of Prayer on its own)
6. Suggested Actions
for the Circles and Reflections
process is designed to unfold, either on one’s
own or as part of a concerned group, from an intellectual understanding
of the issues through compassion into action:
1.1 As a
first step, on your own, take time to read the SAO Briefing
over Humanity – Changes to Industrial
Relations in Australia.
1.2 Set time aside by yourself or with others and read the cameos.
Read them slowly and aloud to get in touch with the feelings
they may evoke. Then reflect and/or share your own stories or
those of people you know.
1.3 Work with the Issues Questions that relate specifically
to key issues in the Briefing Paper to gain a deeper understanding
of the key issues.
1.4 Contemplate the Reflection Questions in light of the life-giving
values of your tradition and culture.
Pray and/or …
Get involved in the campaign in concrete ways – see
the Suggested Actions page.
you are 18 years old, a refugee from the Sudan who has only been
for 12 months. You recently got your first
job – cleaning a supermarket late in the evenings. Your
level of English is still only quite basic and you think you
are not really clever but you plan to keep studying and working
as best you can to support the members of your family who don’t
yet have jobs. You expect life will now get better simply because
you now have a job. You are told your pay is $11.50 an hour but
you find out that the supermarket chain no longer employs its
own cleaners. Who is your employer? You learn the supermarkets
contract out this work to another large company who now only
employs subcontractors. So before you can start your job you
must get an ABN and buy your own cleaning equipment. You’re
working now but the hours are erratic, the chemicals harsh. You
fall ill and can’t work for two weeks and once recovered
you need to care for your mother and the baby of the family – they
too have fallen ill. Your shifts are given to someone else. You
find another cleaning job and it too is erratic and late at night.
You discover that because you are an ‘independent contractor’ you
have no rights to sick leave or regular hours of work or any
of the other fair conditions people have told you about. A kind
Catholic sister had helped you get the number from the Tax Office
but you were shocked to hear that you must put money aside each
week to pay tax. You are not earning enough to tide you over
for the times you don’t work – how are you supposed
to organise this? Maybe you just hope you won’t have to
pay. Can this be right? Both the supermarket and the cleaning
company can avoid providing the protections afforded to real ‘employees’.
They don’t even have to work about the paperwork for the
Tax Office. You become very stressed and confused and tired from
working all night and looking after your baby sister all day.
The TAFE English class teacher tells you the minimum wage is
actually $12.75 an hour – you are owed about $400 but how
can you fight the cleaning company? From despair to hope to despair
again – you don’t know how long you can do this ……………….
no way out, no way out … depression takes over and spirals
you are a Relationship Manager in one of the four big banks.
is to look after the accounts of the some of
the Bank’s 25,000 wealthiest customers. You are 43 with
a husband and two kids and your salary is $53,000. Your combined
family income is $96,000 but since you are the higher earner
your entire salary goes to pay the mortgage. Things are tight,
no breathing space in the family budget and you’re worried
about interest rate rises. The Bank announces to all the Relationship
staff one day that you are all to be moved across to a new subsidiary
company. They present you and 99 other Managers with an AWA.
Your salary has been cut by $15,000. Sign it or there’s
no job. Your union gets involved and takes the Bank to court.
You win but there is such bad feeling in the office now. You
know that if you left this Bank it would be hard to find a similar
job and you’d be faced yet again with another AWA. The
stress and tension take its toll on your family life. It’s
only a matter of time before another “restructure”.
Will your marriage survive? What happens next time Chloe needs
a new uniform and school books for high school?……
you are a young person and have a mental disability. You are
to work for 15 hours a week by someone in
your JobNetwork and so are moved to the Newstart allowance
and told to look for work. All is good. You find 20 hours a
but then another psychotic episode sees you back in hospital
and then back on the streets, breached by Centrelink
with no income at all……..
3. Issues Questions
1. Scrapping of Unfair Dismissal laws for companies with less
than 100 employees
the absence of a fair process it is difficult to expect the
development of constructive relationships between
employers and workers based on mutual trust and loyalty.
Australian Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (ACCER),
letter to Kevin Andrews MP, Minister for Workplace Relations
What kinds of workplaces and workplace relationships are likely
to develop as a consequence of scrapping the Unfair Dismissal
2. Proposed changes to wages and conditions
If through necessity or fear of a worse evil, the workman accepts
harder conditions because an employer or contractor will give
him no better, he is the victim of force and injustice.
Leo XIII – Rerum
Novarum #34, 1891
What does the group feel is a fair minimum wage for a worker
supporting a family?
What social and economic conditions are needed to ensure a happy
and secure family life engaged in the spirit of community?
The link between the proposed IR and ‘Welfare to Work’ changes
What do these changes say about our society’s level of
compassion and our Government’s agenda?
4. The Role of Unions in pursuing the Common Good
Although … democratic
societies today accept the principle of labour
union rights, they are not always open to their exercise.
The important role of union organisations must
their object is the representation of the various categories
their lawful collaboration in the economic
advance of society and the development of their sense of
the realisation of the common good.
Pope Paul VI,
Octogesima Adventiens #14, 1971
Thinking beyond the workplace, what are some possible negative
effects and outcomes for individuals and the wider
society if the collective voice of workers is silenced?
What has been the role of unions in our country
in pursuing the Common Good and social Justice?
Does anyone have a story
to share about this?
5. Independent, Secular Voices
Of the four critical labour market challenges facing Australia
which will be positively assisted by the proposed changes?
Power over or power with: what kinds of government interventions
would develop innovative partnerships in workplaces rather than
places where one group has unbridled power over others?
What is meant by the Common Good in the context of Catholic Social
What values underpin the Howard Government’s
rhetoric and how do these sit with Catholic Social
will the dignity of all human persons, but especially
the poor and marginalised,
be upheld by these proposed changes?
does a radically individualistic view of the world – one
that paradoxically preferences corporations
over the individual – serve
the Common Good?
is going to benefit from these ‘reforms’?
do you know personally who will lose out, in
terms of finances or quality of life, from these ‘reforms’?
is our own view on how to develop
Common Wealth for the Common Good?
Make us leaven, Oh God of justice,
that believing in our own dignity and the dignity of others
we might help the world, with its systems and employers,
to develop in justice, love and respect for all
through just compensation, job security,
the right to organise and participate,
and adequate support for families.
Make us leaven that rises and gives hope.