5 February 2016

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese

The Archdiocese of Sydney's Justice and Peace Office is calling on Catholics to make a brief submission to the Fair Work Commission on the recommendation from the Productivity Commission to cut Sunday penalty rates.

A December 2015 report from the Productivity Commission recommended cutting the rates of Sunday penalty rates and making them equal to the rates paid on Saturday for those in the hospitality, entertainment, retail, restaurants and cafes industries, where demand is strong on the weekends.

The Commission's reasoning was that a decline in religious observance on Sundays, the increased presence of women in the workplace (with the consequent need for weekend services) and an increase in consumer demand for shopping and recreation services meant that Sundays were no longer considered "special."

The Fair Work Commission will make the final decision on weekend penalty rates, and is seeking submissions from the public by Wednesday, 17 February.

The Justice and Peace Office said that while there is an argument that a reduction in penalty rates will allow for job creation as wage pressure on business is relieved, there is no certainty that any extra profits for business will be re-invested in further jobs.

It also said that a decrease in real-wages will likely have a negative effect on business as large numbers of workers will have less disposable income. This would be especially so for small business and rural communities where that spending is vital to jobs and business viability.

Additionally, by only focusing on one group of workers who are a group already generally at the bottom-end of the pay scale, the cuts will effectively create an underclass of working poor.

The Justice and Peace Office also proposed some specifically Catholic reasons for the maintaining of Sunday penalty rates:

  • We care about the nature and fairness of work because we believe every person is made in the image of God and entitled to live with the dignity and goodness that entails.

  • Our Church has a long history of being vocal on issues of work and workers - e.g. Pope Leo XIII wrote his influential Encyclical Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labour) in 1891; Pope John Paul II spoke and wrote often on issues surrounding work and there is a body of Australian Catholic Bishops' statements and pastoral letters on the issue.

  • At its heart, the teaching says that the human being must be the centre of all economic policy and should not simply be a means to economic gains. Having work is good and dignifying for people, but it must be fair and give a person a living wage.

  • If these cuts go ahead the many families and young people who rely on their penalty rates to make ends meet would be thrown into poverty or be forced to work longer hours to make up the shortfall.

  • It denies people the time needed for healthy lives, strong family and marital relationships and a community bound together by more than just either working or consuming goods and services.

  • We believe the freedom to rest and spend time with our God, our family and our friends on the Sabbath is not a 'privilege' only for the fortunate few. It is a day made for the good of all people.

  • As Christians we have an obligation to keep holy the Sabbath and not to have it turned into a day when we either work or are expected to shop and consume.

  • This day was made to give us rest from our toil, to keep us from turning into slaves and to allow us to live life in fullness - if people are to work on this day that sacrifice ought to be duly acknowledged and rewarded.

    Catholics are encouraged to write to their MPs, make a submission via the easy online tool available at http://protectpenaltyrates.org.au/fair-work/ and sign the "save our weekend" petition at www.saveourweekend.org.au.

For more information or to be further involved, contact the Justice and Peace Office.

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