Fair and Dignified Working Conditions

Some Key Employment Figures*

  • In Sept 2016, 11 959 500 Australians were employed, that was an increase of 3 900 people compared to the previous month.
  • The unemployment rate was 5.6% in September 2016, that is 715 100 people. This was a slight fall from previous months; In NSW the unemployment rate in Sept was 5%; Youth unemployment rate was 12.61% in the same month.
  • Full time employment dropped by 54 100 people in Sept 2016; while part time work increased by 130 000 persons. This is a trend that has been increasing over the last few years, and is expected to continue to increase.
  • The monthly hours of work by Australians increased by 2.2 million hours or 0.1%.
  •  In 2015 the Fair Work Commission increased minimum wages to $656.90 per week, or $17.29 per hour, calculated on the basis of a 38 hour week. The minimum wage applies to an award/agreement free employee other than: a junior employee; an employee to whom a training arrangement applies; an employee with a disability for whom that disability affects their productivity. A range of subset minimum wages is set for people that do not fit the categories above. Find them here.
  • Average weekly earnings as of May 2016: Full time adult average (including ordinary time and other time): $1575.40 (a rise of 1.9% from May 2015); all adult average earnings: $1160.20

*NB these figures change very regularly – updated monthly and quarterly figures can be found at the ABS.

Woe to those who build their houses by unrighteousness, and their upper rooms by injustice; who make their neighbours work for nothing, and do not give them their wages.

-Jeremiah 22:13

What can you do?

The Sydney Church is currently involved in two campaigns to protect some specific working conditions.

SAVE OUR WEEKEND: This is a national campaign working to prevent Sunday penalty rates being decreased for those in the retail and hospitality sectors. The Fair Work Commission will make a decision in late 2016 or early 2017. Throughout 2016 the Justice and Peace Office, in collaboration with our partners from the Sydney Alliance, came together in our parishes to have a series of ‘Community Conversations’ about this issue.

SOW Conversation Forums CollageUnion members, community groups, and members of different denominations and faiths united to share stories about the importance of penalty rates as a fair compensation for giving up increasingly scarce family and community time.  We had some of our local representatives and candidates present to hear us speak together as a community. To the left is a series of photos from our conversations at Panania, Concord West and Kincumber Parishes.

TAKE THE TIME: Like the Save Our Weekend campaign, the Take the Time campaign is an effort to stand up for fairer working conditions and to highlight and protect the importance of family, community and worship time. Specifically, it is a campaign that has been running for the last few years to limit extensions of Boxing Day trading hours. The extension legislation passed in late 2015, but in 2017 the sunset clause written into the original laws will be reached and we will have a new opportunity to reinstate some restrictions on Boxing Day trading.1606900_683758258329357_631197642_n

To learn more or get involved with Save Our Weekend go here; for Take the Time go here. There is so much you can do at your local level to work for better and fairer working conditions. Talk to people at your Church, how are they faring at work, what are their struggles? Organise a morning tea or wine and cheese night to bring people together to talk about their work stories and see what common challenges arise; then discern if you can take action on them – perhaps you could talk to your local MP, or contact the local branch of a relevant union to find out more.

OTHER SIMPLE IDEAS FOR ACTION: The 1994 Australian Bishops’ Social Justice Statement offers some practical steps that are still relevant. Some of them include:

  • Stand in solidarity with the unemployed, underemployed and those in difficult and unfair working conditions. ‘This will sometimes include advocacy to government and the public service’.
  • Provide practical assistance – e.g. meals, childcare, money, assistance with rent/mortgage or utilities, take someone out and do something special, spend time and offer friendship, can you connect them to any work opportunities you might know about?
  • Accept that prevention, or turn around, of a growing underclass may require sacrifice from us who have more, including in our living standards.
  • Live more simply so as to stand in solidarity with the poor and to highlight human dignity as our primary value. This is something the 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio asks of us: ‘God asks us to look at our lifestyles and to live simply, sustainably and in solidarity with those in poverty’. For more info and ideas see Livesimply.org.uk, a Catholic organisation.
  • Learn more and raise awareness where you can. Start with our page on Catholic Social Teaching on Work which outlines key Church teachings on the topic and has a list of further resources.

If you would like further ideas, support, or to connect with other Catholics from around Sydney who are working on these issues, or if you simply want know more about how the Church stands in solidarity with workers and the dignity of fair work please contact us at the Justice and Peace Office.

To learn what the Church teaches about work click here.

Images: ©Justice and Peace Office and Sydney Alliance

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