Sunday Penalty Rate Cuts – What does it mean for Catholics

The Issue

  • In December a report on the issue by Productivity Commission, a Government advisory body, was tabled in Parliament. It argued for the reduction of Sunday penalty rates to the level of Saturday rates, but only for those in the retail and hospitality sector. The issue is now before the Fair Work Commission which will make the final decision in the coming months.

Key arguments for:

  • It will allow for job creation as wage pressure on business is relieved,
  • It will more correctly reflect our modern ‘24/7’ economy – since the community now largely expects to be able to shop and eat out on a Sunday it is not fair to punish businesses with higher penalty rates.
  • This change will reflect modern cultural values which no longer hold Sunday as a special day, especially because of the decline in religious observance.

Key Arguments against:

  • There is no certainty that any extra profits for business will be re-invested in further jobs.
  • A decrease in real-wages will likely have a negative effect on business as large numbers of workers will have less disposable income. This is especially so for small business and rural communities where that spending is vital to jobs and business viability.
  • Only focusing on one group of workers, a group already generally at the bottom-end of the pay scale, is unfair and would effectively create an underclass of working poor.
  • Sunday does remain a special day – the vast majority of the Australian community spends time together with families, celebrates national sporting and cultural events, spends time with friends or in community groups, and many still do continue to worship.

A Catholic response?

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 care about and believe in the Sabbath

  • 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.

What can you do?

  • Raise your voice– 80% of Australians are not in favour of cuts yet many don’t know that it is currently on the table so it is largely business groups that are being heard. Share your story or concerns with friends, family and parish community. Ask people you know working in these industries if they know a pay cut is on the table?
  • The Fair Work Commission is currently inviting people with any interest in the issue to make a submission –if you have ever worked, are currently working or have someone you love working in either sector please make a submission. It is a brief and easy process but closes on February 17. Find it here:
  • Explore the ‘Save Our Weekend’ campaign website and sign the petition.
  • Write to local Federal MPs – this is powerful don’t underestimate it!
  • Contact the Justice and Peace Office – we will be doing various things in relation to the issue and can assist if you would like to get more involved.


JPO Team