The chairman of the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service has used the annual message for the feast of St Joseph the Worker to call for “social solidarity in a time of social distancing”.
Bishop Vincent Long van Nguyen OFM Conv said the May 1 feast day has taken on additional meaning as millions of Australians face job insecurity and financial stress.
“Like you, I have found it deeply distressing to see so many thousands of people queuing to apply for government assistance,” Bishop Long writes in the pastoral message.
“Our hearts go out to everyone who is out of work; to those whose businesses have been forced to close; and to those whose regular income has plummeted while their bills remain.”
In acknowledging that experiences like approaching Centrelink for assistance have been new for tens or hundreds of thousands of people, Bishop Long said some common financial realities have remained.
“In any crisis, it is usually the poorest, the most vulnerable and the least powerful who suffer the worst,” he wrote.
“Casual employees, many contract employees and gig workers are not entitled to sick leave or carer’s leave. They are often unable to save from their earnings in order to cover periods of illness or inability to work.
“Surviving on the JobSeeker payment, or any other form of government assistance, is difficult. However, there are also many people who are unable to access this support and are at risk of falling through the cracks.”
Bishop Long highlighted the precarious situation facing asylum-seekers, international students and those on temporary protection visas, saying excluding them from government assistance is “inhumane and unworthy of a decent society”.
He made special mention of those who are working on “the front line” and cannot self-isolate because of their responsibilities – health care workers and teachers, but also cleaners, supermarket workers and delivery people, who have taken on indispensable roles during the pandemic.
“All of this prompts us to think about what are really the most important things in life,” Bishop Long wrote.
“Are the people who do the things that are actually the most essential for our life together in a civilised society paid well? How do we treat them? Have we noticed that women are over-represented in the frontline occupations?
“When the health crisis is over, will we simply go back to working in the same ways that we did before? Or will we have learned new ways to work that enable us to better balance our work, family and community responsibilities? Will we adopt ways of working that encourage men as well as women to share more equitably in the unpaid work of caring?”
He concluded the message with a call to resist the temptation to simply worry about one’s own circumstances.
“In a climate of fear, there is a tendency to narrow our circle. God calls us to a different way: working together, needing each other, being the body of Christ,” Bishop Long wrote.
“May St Joseph, model of integrity and solidarity, inspire us to serve and to care for all.”