The Church employs more than 220,000 people across Australia, so it has an important role in this debate as we are both a substantial employer and a Church with concern for the most vulnerable.
That’s why the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference through the Australian Catholic Council for Employment Relations (ACCER) has made submissions to national wage cases for decades, because the minimum wage is all that many people have.
Recently, the Fair Work Commission announced a 2.5 per cent increase to the national minimum wage, which equates to $772.60 per week or $20.33 per hour. That’s great news – and a considerable boost on top of last year’s 1.7 per cent increase.
The Church believes workers have a right to wages that will support themselves and their families to a dignified standard of living. We advocate for a safety net minimum wage which provides workers a fair and decent standard of living.
The idea that working people and their families might live in poverty is inconsistent with safety net principles. We have the example of how quickly and decisively the community can act to address poverty and the positive impact JobKeeper has had on rates of poverty in Australia. In effect, JobKeeper provided a minimum wage for all workers, irrespective of the hours that they worked or did not work.
ACCER sought a 4 per cent increase to the minimum wage, arguing that the wage rates do not meet the definition of a ‘safety net of fair minimum wages’ in the Fair Work Act, given that groups of workers receiving the minimum wage are in poverty and suffering social disadvantage.
ACCER provided data on current poverty rates and pointed to the link to the number of Australians currently earning minimum wage.
The Fair Work Commission did not agree with ACCER’s views, but ACCER is a meaningful contributor to the annual wage review, providing opposing views to employer organisations and industry parties.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a good job and a comfortable life should never forget those around us who are struggling. ACCER will be back next year to advocate for minimum wage workers to receive fair and reasonable wages that provide a safety net from poverty.
Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv is chair of the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service.