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‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’. Luke 23:46
Issue 1, April 2011, Highlights:
Office of Justice, Ecology and Peace - Work should be for everybody
Office of Justice, Ecology and Peace
By: Dr David Brennan, Editing and Publishing Officer of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council
Work should be for everybody
In Australia, for example, the rate of unemployment is around 5 per cent. Comparison with other countries isn’t simple, because unemployment is measured in different ways, but even so, it’s instructive to see that the rate in New Zealand and Germany is 6.5 per cent and in the UK 7.9 per cent. In the USA it is 8.9 per cent, in France 10.1 per cent and in Ireland 13.9 per cent.
So the rate of unemployment in Australia is not as bad as it is in several other countries – though we know that one unemployed person is one too many. Being without a job is one of the most devastating situations that a person can face in a modern society.
Although Australia can take credit for a moderately low unemployment rate, we face a problem. The more unemployment goes down, the harder it is to keep reducing it. The people who are left on the unemployment list are those who find it hardest to obtain and keep a job – for example, those with little education, with disabilities, with patchy employment history, or who have been in prison.
I’m reminded of this issue by an article written for the Fairfax press by Gerard Henderson, someone who is occasionally critical of the Church’s stance on matters of social justice and on employment issues in particular. He raises an uncomfortable point: although our unemployment rate has stayed reasonably steady for some time, the number of long-term unemployed (those without a job for more than 12 months) has risen by some 33 per cent in two years.
Although Mr Henderson doesn’t suggest why this should be so or what sort of people are in this new group of long-term unemployed, he does have a suggestion for reducing their number: relax the unfair dismissal laws. The theory is this: if an employer fears being sued for dismissing an employee who turns out to be unsuitable, that employer is less likely to hire anyone in the first place.
I think this is a flawed argument. Unfair dismissal laws are there to protect the most vulnerable, and that includes people who are struggling to keep their jobs while they overcome inexperience or gaps in training or education. And the fact remains that an unsatisfactory employee can be dismissed if the employer gives proper warning and sensible opportunities to improve.
And there is an issue that goes beyond the details of laws about who can be dismissed and how. The Church teaches that work is a vital part of our identity and contribution to society. So in trying to help those who struggle most to obtain work and stay in it, we’re hearing God’s call and doing his work. Work should be for everybody.