For more than 20 years, the Catholic Church in Australia has marked the Feast of St Joseph the Worker on May 1 with a pastoral letter that places Catholic Social Teaching in dialogue with current work issues in Australia.In this year’s letter, Bishop Terry Brady, Bishop Delegate for Social Justice, said: “Opinions may differ on what will best serve the common good, but let us remember that the common good is not served when vulnerable or disadvantaged people and groups are left out.
“As we approach the federal election, let us revisit the invitation of the 2014 pastoral letter: ‘Think of the older worker made redundant by technology and becoming long-term unemployed; a son or daughter completing their training but frustrated in the search for a job; a single mother trying to make ends meet on the Newstart Allowance; a household with work but still below the poverty line.’”
This year’s letter looks at a number of key principles related to the Church’s teaching on work, including: A just wage; The value of unpaid work; The social wage; Unemployment; An economy of inclusion; and Knowing our tradition.
Bishop Brady said “these pastoral letters place Catholic Social Teaching in dialogue with current work issues in Australia, making a uniquely Australian contribution to the Church’s teachings on work”.
The letters “come from and belong to the whole Church” and were “initiated and created by laity and bishops together”, he said.
“The pastoral letters for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker might not be well known, but they are a useful resource for reflection and action on contemporary work issues.”
Regarding the issue of a just wage, Bishop Brady said that this was a key indicator of the justice of our society.
“Right now, the Australian bishops, with help from our Employment Relations Reference Group, are arguing at the Fair Work Commission for the national minimum wage to be set at a level that would allow people to live with dignity,” he said.
“In doing so, we stand in a tradition reaching back to Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes).
“We continue to argue that it is only fair that anyone working full time should receive a wage that is at least sufficient to support themselves and their family.
“Every working family should be able to live in ‘frugal comfort’ as Leo XIII put it. It is shameful that there is such a thing as low wage poverty in Australia today.”
The letter also highlights the need for a “social wage” to ensure a just society.
“The pastoral letters remind us that work ‘is part of our vocation as Christians’ and that through it we ‘participate with God in the ongoing act of creation.’
“It is a way of developing our skills, expressing ourselves, participating in society and contributing to the common good of the community. Consequently, much more than an income is lost when people are unemployed!”