Laying out the Catholic response to Work Choices

Laying out the Cathoilc response to Work ChoicesThe Federal Government’s Work Choices legislation has had a profound impact on Australian employment law and workplace relation. It will be a central issue in this year’s Federal election. Work plays an immensely important role in our personal, family and community relations and the way in which work is remunerated and regulated has a broader economic impact.

Workplace Relations: A Catholic Perspective has been published by the Australian Catholic Council for Employment Relations (ACCER), an agency of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, for two principal purposes: to explain Catholic social teaching on work and employment-related issues and, on the basis of that teaching, to make a contribution to the national debate about employment law and workplace relations.

In November 2005, the Bishops published a statement on aspects of Work Choices debate. In the statement, they noted that the debate had caused 'many of us to reflect on the fundamental values that should underpin our workplaces and society as a whole' and the need for economic growth to 'provide prosperity and economic security for all and to provide equity and social cohesion'.

The Bishops were concerned that the legislation, which was then before the Parliament, did not provide a proper balance between the rights of workers and employers in several respects. They said that changes were 'necessary to alleviate some of the undesirable consequences of the legislation, especially in regard to its potential impact on the poor, on the vulnerable and on families'. No such changes were made. The four particular matters raised by the Bishops were minimum wages, minimum conditions of employment and bargaining, unfair dismissals and the role of unions.

Chapter Two of the book is a 'stand alone' review of Catholic social teaching on work and related issues, independent of the Work Choices debate. This review is made under five broad headings: Catholic social teaching on work and the dignity of the worker; the rights of the worker; the principles of Catholic social teaching; Catholic social teaching on economic markets and the role of governments, especially as they relate to workplace relations; and the obligation of Catholics to participate in the making of a more just society.

Laying out the Cathoilc response to Work ChoicesThe review of Catholic social teaching on work and workers’ rights identifies four rights which broadly coincide with the four matters identified in the Bishops’ Statement: the right to a just wage, the right to protection against unfair agreements, the right to participate in unions and the right to job security. Each of these rights, and the relevant Work Choices provisions, are the subject of separate chapters. In each ACCER finds a continuing basis for the kinds of concerns identified by the Bishops in November 2005.

Workplace Relations: A Catholic Perspective is based on the assessment and belief that a modern market economy, appropriately regulated and supplemented by government, is able to deliver both economic growth and social justice.

The fair and just treatment of workers is an essential requirement of a just society. The obligation of Catholics to work towards the 'just ordering of society', to work for social justice, was explained and emphasised again in Pope Benedict’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est. The Pope reminded us during his visit to Brazil last May that the Church 'is the advocate of justice and the poor, precisely because it does not identify with politicians nor with partisan interests' and it is the function of the Church to 'form consciences, to be the advocate for justice and truth, to educate in individual and political virtues'.

Workplace Relations: A Catholic Perspective examines the major features of Work Choices in the context of Catholic social teaching and calls for further changes to the legislation in order to protect the poor and vulnerable and to achieve a proper balance between the rights of employers and the rights of workers.

Another of the objectives in publishing the book was to promote the discussion of Catholic social teaching in parishes, schools and Catholic workplaces. The publication contains a series of meeting plans to guide Church groups in discussing Catholic social teaching on work, social and economic issues and social justice. The development of discussion groups in these places is an important means of promoting Catholic social teaching.



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