An address by Bishop Kevin Manning
on Monday 16 April 2007 to
Bursars of Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes (NSW) at the Good Samaritan Congregational Centre, Glebe.
I begin by drawing on one of the Encyclicals of Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, a truly radical document: radical when it was first published in 1967, and radical now, forty years later.
I use radical in its true sense of going back to the roots rather than in adopting a position on a political scale of right to left. Populorum Progressio did indeed call us to examine the world from our Christian roots.
The Scriptures call us to focus on our life together, as did the first Christian communities which shared their resources and looked after the needy. The first organizational activity in the Early Church was for the provision of widows who were missing out in the distribution from the common purse.
And you who are keepers of the purse have to be careful! How would you like to be called murderers of the poor? That's what the Bishops of early medieval France called those who took for their own use goods or money destined for the support of the poor.
In view of the Christian Church's long tradition of concern for those who are less well off as well as for the common good, it was nothing short of amazing to read the Prime Minister's remark in the House of Representatives in August 2006, and I quote him: "I think it very important to make the obvious statement that there is no such thing as a Catholic position on industrial relations".1
Of course there is a Catholic position on industrial relations! That some Catholics may not know it, or do not agree with it, cannot obliterate the fact that we have a position clearly enunciated since Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum.
In Populorum Progressio, we find elements of that position unequivocally stated and surgically applied.
Teaching of Pope Paul VI
What did Paul VI say which was so radical? The two hinges of Populorum Progressio are that: firstly, the interest of the economy is subordinate to the interests of the human community, and secondly, the right of all to share in the resources of the earth, to glean what they need for an existence appropriate to their human condition.
I leave it to you to judge that contrast between that position and Mr Howard's statement at the Premiers' Conference in April 2007 that "jobs and economic prosperity is (sic) more important than ideology and emissions targets"2. I suggest that you attend to the number of times the vocabulary of economic prosperity is used by the supporters of WorkChoices without reference to the human dimension of economic growth.
Authentic human development can never be equated with economic growth alone When the economy takes precedence over the authentic development of the human community certain concepts gain an unwarranted pre-eminence. Pope Paul VI named them clearly:
"these concepts present profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, having no limits nor concomitant social obligations" (PP, 26).
We have all read of companies being permitted by their industry regulators to increase prices even though record profits are being announced, and that at the same time as accessibility of services is being reduced! Paul VI calls the operation of these concepts the product of "unbridled liberalism" (26) and unequivocally states the principle that economics is at the service of humanity (27).
Yes, the Church teaches there is a right to the ownership of private property but that right is not absolute and unconditional, as St Ambrose said: "the earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich" (PP, 22). Pope Paul VI goes on to condemn the practice whereby an individual gains substantial income from the resources of his own country and proceeds to invest that income in a foreign country for his own good, taking no account of his country's interest (PP 25).
Paul VI wrote: "Today, in many lands, countless men and women are starving.
Countless children suffer from malnutrition * whole regions are condemned to hopelessness". He could be writing the headlines for tomorrow's paper!
This hopelessness is all the more harrowing when we know that, in large part, it is not due to the natural incapacity of the land to produce food, nor, in large measure is this hopelessness a result of climate change. No, sadly, it is the result of the desire for power and greed of some human beings You can think of examples.
There was Idi Amin, president of a country, Uganda, which was so fertile it could have fed half of Africa; there is Mugabe reducing the population to poverty as well as flouting every democratic principle, and North Korea unable to feed its people but intent on being a nuclear power.
And then there are the huge contradictions when nations generously give aid to poor countries stricken by natural disaster, but then are party to trade policies which make it impossible for these countries to compete on an equal footing in the markets of the world.
Paul VI commented that the people of these poor countries "will have no grounds for hope or trust if they fear that what is being given them with one hand is being taken away with the other (PP 56).
Sadly, there is another kind of trade: the trade of human beings as sex workers - frequently innocent young women and men who respond to the human yearning for a better life in the West and find themselves caught up in a web of debt bondage from which it is difficult to escape; all the while the abolition of slavery is being commemorated!
But let us not stray too far from home here! We are all complicit in creating, or, at least, in allowing to be created, a society and a climate which makes the economy the barometer of human fulfillment, and the goal above all other goals which is to sought by politicians and others. Why is it that we not only tolerate, but continue to reward, those who drive the economy at the expense of authentic human development?
In this part I will talk about some principles of Catholic Social Justice teaching which have particular application to work and then speak about principles to guide Catholic Church employers.
I can probably assume that in an audience such as this, you are familiar with the basics of Catholic Social Justice teaching so I will confine myself to two very important principles enunciated by Pope Paul VI in Populorum Progressio. Both principles originated from earlier popes but it is a measure of the pivotal position of these principles in Catholic teaching that Paul VI repeats them.
The first concerns the human context of work and Paul VI wrote:
"Our predecessor Blessed John XXIII stressed the urgent need of restoring dignity to the worker and making him a real partner in the common task, ' every effort must be made to ensure that the enterprise is indeed a true human community, concerned about the needs, the activities and the standing of each of its members'." (PP 28)
Does this strike you like a workplace operating under WorkChoices legislation? Let us unpack the principle a little.
The most technical understanding of employment is that it is an exchange; an exchange of labour for remuneration, including pay and conditions. But the context in which this exchange occurs is a human context, and that places the exchange in the field of relationships.
The rights which flow from the principle of the dignity of the human person require that there is fairness in the relationship brought about by the exchange of labour for remuneration and conditions of work: that there is a reasonable and fair balance between the rights of employers and the rights of employees.
The point which emerges here is the crucial point of balance which requires that the rights of employers are respected as well as the rights of employees. But the arrangements set up under WorkChoices ensure that there is an imbalance in very many cases.
This imbalance arises particularly in the matter of the AWA's. The position is plainly put in Populorum Progressio:
"when two parties are in very unequal positions, their mutual consent alone does not guarantee a fair contract: the rule of free consent remains subservient to the demands of the natural law".
In other words, just because something is agreed does not guarantee that it is fair! Pope Paul VI was applying the principle, derived from Leo XIII, in the context of agreements between nations, but the principle applies equally well in the context of AWAs.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with an AWA provided that the worker is highly skilled and has a sophisticated capacity for negotiation. In the workplace, some, but by no means all, workers will have skills of sufficient marketability, and the capacity to negotiate an AWA which suits them, but the fact remains that the majority will not. As an instrument of work relations, the AWA does not guarantee balance or fairness
Another imbalance in the structure of workplace arrangements is the restriction on the right of free association brought about by limiting by legislation, the activities of Unions on worksites. Remember that unions are 'a mouthpiece of the struggle for social justice" (Laborem Exercens, 20).
Although not instigated by the Government of the day, the appearance of guard dogs in an Australian workplace is forever etched on my memory, and is an image which lurks behind the over-regulation and strangulation of workers' rights to free organisation imposed by WorkChoices.
The lack of congruence between restriction on Union activity and "a true human community, concerned about the needs, the activities and the standing of each of its members" is blinding!
Church as Employer
The Church is a major employer and must practice what she preaches and recently the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations has adopted Four Principles for Catholic Church Employers. These are 'hot off the press' so you may have only recently received them, or indeed not yet received them.
The Principles themselves are not new. They are straight from Catholic Social Teaching and are:
The Right to a Just Wage
The Right to Fair and Reasonable Working Conditions
There are a number of points to each of these heading but I will mention one or two which illustrate the principle well.
Right to a Just Wage
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2434)h, in determining fair pay, both the needs and contributions of each person must be taken into account. Wages should continue to compensate people for work during unsocial times, weekends, public holiday and late nights.
The Right to Fair and Reasonable Working Conditions Employers should provide working conditions which are fair and reasonable and which allow employees to have a proper work/life balance, for example, employees should not be encouraged to cash out leave entitlement but to take the leave that is due to them.
The right to Security of Employment
It is a traditional teaching of the Catholic Church that workers have rights which are superior to the rights of capital among which is the right to security of employment. Workplace agreement should be supported by policies which enable employees to seek remedy if they are unfairly or unlawfully dismissed and casual employees employed on a regular and systematic basis should be offered permanent employment.
The right to join a union and strike as a last resort Agreements should be supported by policies which encourage union involvement in the workplace at the employees' request. Specifically, employers in Catholic organisations will not refuse to enter into collective agreements when this is the desire of the majority of employees in the workplace.
The world has come a long way since the discourse of the inevitable class conflict between capital and labour prevailed. We have moved towards a better balance of the rights of employers and employees, and that balance is what Catholic social teaching seeks to articulate.
Yes, there is a Catholic position on industrial relations, and it is nothing less that the preservation of the balance between the rights of employers and employees. When this balance is tilted one way, and the disadvantaged are denied redress, the Church must speak.