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Bishop's pre-emptive strike against workers' rights rollback

Parramatta's Bishop Kevin Manning is reportedly sending a "pre-emptive message" to the Government that it has a responsibility to care for the vulnerable and protect the rights of workers.

The Sydney Morning Herald's Chief Political Correspondent Louise Dodson says a talk by Bishop Manning is having the effect of "undermining the Liberal Party's carefully crafted strategy to wean Catholic voters from Labor".

She says Howard Government's "planned industrial relations revolution", which "is being touted as one of the main reforms of its fourth-term agenda", has "attracted energetic criticism from Bishop Kevin Manning, an influential Catholic leader in Sydney, where the Liberal Party is competing fiercely with Labor".

Bishop Manning's criticism was first reported in Online Catholics and CathNews last month.

Enthusiastically supported by business groups as essential to building national prosperity and boosting living standards, the reforms are almost certain to be passed into law when the Coalition takes control of the Senate in July.

Yet if the laws are passed, Ms Dodson argues they could undermine the Liberal Party's efforts to attract Catholic voters.

Bishop Manning has not yet spoken to the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews, a staunch Catholic, about his concerns with the legislation, but that could change if the laws fail to protect workers, he says.

"If the legislation disadvantages workers, I will certainly be speaking with him, and in dealings I have had in the past with him, I've found him very reasonable," Manning told the Herald.

Arguing his case, Manning invokes the Bible - both Old and New Testaments - as well as a landmark proclamation on workers' rights by Pope Leo XIII in 1891.

The papal encyclical entitled Rerum Novarum addressed the "vast imbalance in power between employers and employees" and has a "remarkably contemporary" message, Manning said in a recent speech on the anniversary of the Industrial Relations Commission entitled "Four centenary challenges in employment relations".

"Labour market flexibility is not a good in itself. If flexible arrangements undermine the ability of workers to earn a living wage or to plan a family, then the state has a responsibility to intervene in favour of the common good," he said in the speech.

Manning complains that more and more Australian families are joining the ranks of the working poor as a result of the industrial relations system. In the scathing critique he said that many workers feel pressed to accept contracts that do not deliver a living wage.

"Low wages, insecure short-term contracts, casual work and seasonal work are frequently the lot of young people, migrants and holders of temporary protection visas, unskilled and semi-skilled workers. These patterns of employment are making inroads into white-collar work. At the same time, top executives are earning preposterous salaries."

He also criticised the Government's long-cherished plan to exempt small business from the unfair dismissal laws. "I can't imagine Justice Higgins [whose 1907 ruling led to the basic wage] entertaining the idea that a worker's right not to be unfairly dismissed depends on the size of the enterprise for which they work."

Backing up his speech, Manning refers to "vicious" examples of contemporary employment practices, referring to a nephew employed by a pizza restaurant as a home delivery courier who was given preference over adults because he could be paid lower wages.

A loss of faith in the new workplace (Sydney Morning Herald 7/12/04)

Bishop Manning challenges employment relations law (Online Catholics 10/11/04)
Bishop Kevin Manning, Bishop of Parramatta: Four centenary challenges in employment relations
Catholic Diocese of Parramatta

Bishop Manning challenges employment relations law (CathNews 10/11/04)

7 Dec 2004