CATHOLIC groups have labelled the Fair Work Commission decision to cut the pay of some of Australia’s lowest-paid workers through reductions in penalty rates as “deplorable” and a “sad day” for Australia.
St Vincent de Paul Society national council chief executive officer Dr John Falzon (pictured) said the cuts on February 23 were an attack on people who already struggled to survive and for whom penalty rates made an important difference from week to week.
“Cutting penalty rates will not create jobs but it will build inequality,” he said.
“This cut will disproportionately affect women, young people and people who already carry the burden of inequality.
“The rights of workers should take priority over the maximisation of profits.
“There’s nothing innovative about increasing the numbers of the working poor in prosperous Australia.
“And this is happening in the context of the (Federal) Government’s systematic assault on the social security safety net.
“This decision will result in more people needing to seek assistance from charities. The answer, however, is not charity. It is justice.”
Catholic Commission for Employment Relations executive director Tony Farley said it was impossible to create prosperity by kicking the people at the bottom of the heap.
“Less money in the pockets of some of our lowest-paid workers is bad for the economy, will mean significant hardship for families and children, and won’t create a single new job,” he said. “If the system allows for pay cuts to workers who are already struggling then the system is broken.
“The Federal Government must now take steps to restore confidence and boost pay and conditions.
“This slippery slope to continued erosion of pay and conditions for those who are already struggling is of great concern to Church employers.
“Australia already faces growing labour shortages in the health care, aged and disability care sectors and can ill afford to make these sectors less attractive to prospective employees.
“It is not despite the 24-hour seven-day-a-week economy, but precisely because of it that we must retain penalty rates in order to protect the interests of our lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers.
“Church employers understand that we live in a community not an economy.
“While the notion of the Sabbath may have lost some currency in our secular society, there is a continued need for a day of rest, to play, to socialise and to worship.
“All workers and employers who care about the conditions of low-paid workers should be taking a stand on this.
“This terrible decision will set the scene for reductions in rates for the rest of the workforce.”
Dr Falzon said Australia could not build a strong and fair economy on the misguided premise that people should need to turn to charity to top up their inadequate incomes.
“Today is a sad day in our nation’s history. We stand with the people who have been affected,” he said.