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     UnitingJustice
             A U S T R A L I A




     27* July 2006


     Dear Commissioners,

     The Uniting Church in Australia welcomes this opportunity to contribute its voice to the
     Fair Pay Commission's public consultations on its minimum wage deliberations. At its
     Seventh Assembly in 1994, the Uniting Church adopted its Call for Justice Concerning
     Employment. It states:

             Society has a responsibility to ensure that the economy is based on
             appropriate values and goals, and is directed according to the wishes of
             society. It is not appropriate that the economy shape and control society1.

     The Uniting Church continues to advocate for a just employment relations system,
     fulfilling our international human rights obligations and the needs of members of the
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     Australian community, both employed and unemployed. O r means of employment
     forms an important and enduring part of our social identity, extending far beyond the
     most basic areas of need; our employment affects and structures our time with families
     and friends, and relationships with our local and national communities. Government
     policy at all levels should reflect the inherent need of humans to work with dignity, to
     contribute to the community and to support and provide for the needs of themselves and
     their dependents. Justice in employment and dignity in unemployment, and the promotion
     of healthy and connected local and national communities, are the Uniting Church's key
     concerns in the process of setting the minimum wage.

     The Fair Pay Commission has noted that two of its key considerations in setting the
     minimum wage include "providing a safety-net for the low-paid" and considering "the
     capacity for the unemployed and low-paid to get, and keep, a job". This means that at
     many points, the Commission will be asked to address the concept of dignity. The most
     recent National Assembly of the Uniting Church stated that

             All people are entitled to just remuneration and equitable conditions of
             employment, and dignity in unemployment2.



     1 A Callfor Justice Concerning Emplcymenr,
     2 Inregrip and Justice in Employment Relationships, Resolution of the 1 1" Assembly of the Uniting
     Chwch in Australia, July 2006 - unconfirmed minute only.
It is our concern that the minimum wage should be based on the genuine needs of
members of the Australian society to live dignified lives, a concept which encompasses
not only basic material wellbeing, but also the ability for wage-earners to support their
dependents and to participate in the life of the family and the wider community. The
current form of award minimum wages set the bat for this idea of 'dignity' in two key
ways: by determining the resources available to the least wealthy working people in our
society, and by determining that these resources should be earned in a way that is
community-friendly, promoting the health and wellbeing of the individual and their
community.

It is this second concern, the wellbeing of community life, that the Fair Pay Commission
m s examine in determining the first factor, the base level of resources available to
 ut
employed people. This is particularly necessary because the structure of the minimum
wage has changed substantially over the preceding decade. As one example, the
conception of 'penalty rates' recognised that employment is a structuring factor in our
lives, and that other aspects of our life are often dwarfed by its demands. Penalty rates
sought to promote a healthy community and family life outside of work. However under
the current regulatory environment, employees can be required as a condition of
employment to forego such 'penalties' through the use of an Australian Workplace
Agreement; indeed, this was made explicit in the Government's information package on
the Workchoices changes3. This for many represents the claiming by employment of time
that is traditionally allotted to family and community activities; for others it represents a
significant loss of income. Unemployed people are particularly vulnerable to such
arrangements. The Commission must take into account the impact that increasing or
decreasing the minimum wage will have on social cohesion and the ability of low-paid
people to maintain their standard of living and bond with the community, in light of these
new ways of working.

The Uniting Church ~ s s e m b l y also approached this issue strategically as a goup of
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employing bodies, whose operations will be substantially affected by the outcomes of the
Fair Pay Commission's decisions about minimum wages. The issue of ethical minimum
employment standards has been highlighted internally as a significant area of work for
Church employers, many of whom operate in the community services sector. At its most
recent EIeventh Assembly in July of this year, the Uniting Church National Assembly
body set a process in motion to develop a national approach to just minimum standards of
employment for employees of Uniting Church employers, affirming the commitment of
the Inaugural Assembly's Slatement to the Nation,to:

        Challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard
        of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for
        the privileged in the face of the daily widening gap between the rich and
        the poo?.

3 WorkChoices: A New Workplace Relarions Sy.stem, Australian Government, 2005. See p15 for the
example of 'Billy', an unemployed person who accepts an AWA with conditions inferior to the award
minimums.
4 Statement to the Narion, Inaugural National Assembly, Uniting Church in Australia, June 1977
This national consultation will be convened by the Assembly Standing Committee later
this year.

The Uniting Church has been a vocal opponent of certain aspects of the Federal
Government's WorkChoices legislation, including the lack of concrete legislative
direction to the Fair Pay Commission as to the processes it will undertake to determine
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minimum wages. The Rev. Dr D a Drayton, then President of the Uniting Church,
spoke of his concerns that individual members of the Commission would be required to
deliberate on these important issues without the structural and procedural protection that
a more proscriptive legislation would provide: "It is not the person that is important but
the policy which is the central issue in this debate."' While we are heartened by the
Commission's commitment to a wide-ranging public consultation, we continue to
advocate for the institution of clear legislative guidelines for this important process. In
particular, the way that the minimum wage can be earned in the current regulatory
environment, and the financial and social impact that this has on the lives of the low-paid
and the life of the community, should be a key issue in discerning what constitutes a
dignified minimum standard of employment for all working people.

We calI upon the Fair Pay Commission to undertake its new role in setting the minimum
wage in a manner that shows an understanding of the needs of the low-paid and
unemployed, and recognises the role of family and community in the lives of Australian
people.

As a response to the call of Jesus Christ to work for justice for all and hope for the poor,
the Uniting Church will continue to advocate for the least in. our society. In this
endeavour, we Iook forward to working with the Fair Pay Commission for the future of
all Australians.


Yours sincerely,




Rev. Elenie Poulos
National Director
UnitingJustice Australia




5 Policy before religion i the Fair P q y Commission, media release, Uniting Church President, 14 October
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2005

				
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