Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Unions, human rights and God

By Chris Perkins - posted Monday, 3 December 2007

Eighty-nine years ago, on November 11, at 11am, the armistice was signed to mark the end of hostilities in the first world war: 60,000 Australian soldiers died and 156,000 were wounded or taken prisoner in World War 1.

Those soldiers believed they were fighting for freedom.

Thirty-two years ago, on November 11, at 1pm the elected Australian prime minister was sacked by an unelected Governor General.


And now we know the result of this year’s great Australian exercise in democracy - the federal election.

One of the key issues to dominate debate is industrial relations and workers’ rights. Today we’ll look at a couple of readings to help us look at these issues from some different perspectives. The first reading is taken from John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical Laborum Exercens or “On human work”. This encyclical built upon earlier statements by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. Its principles are long-standing Catholic principles and those core principles have not altered.

It speaks of how work unites people. Indeed, many spend a third of their lives at work. A large percentage of people meet their partners at work. Many have strong friendships with their workmates. Work unites in times of trouble - it was Brant Webb and Todd Russell’s workmates who helped dig them out of that mine shaft. At times of death, work colleagues often form a guard of honour at the funeral providing comfort to grieving loved ones.

Of course work is what pays the bills, keeps food on the table, clothes and educates our children, if you’re lucky it helps you save for retirement, maybe some luxuries and for many it helps us give something back to our community. Work enables it all.

For many people - rightly or wrongly - their self esteem is built around their work. It gives them a sense of identity, a role in their community.

The Pope went on say that the organisations that represent workers - unions - “… are indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people”. Further, he said unions are a constructive factor of social order and solidarity, and it is impossible to ignore them. Dignity at work is as important as dignity at home, dignity in the community and dignity before the law.


In 1986 when he visited Australia he said:

Australia has a long and proud tradition of settling industrial disputes and promoting co-operation by its almost unique system of arbitration and conciliation. Over the years this system has helped to defend the rights of workers and promote their well being, while at the same time taking into account the needs and the future of the whole community.

The former Pope and indeed the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is generally not known for being “anti-business” or extreme in its political view. And nor is it. Conservative is where most would place the Catholic hierarchy on the socio-political spectrum. However, on the issue of unions and dignity at work - the church’s official position is neither extreme nor arch conservative. It is merely responsible.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

23 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Chris Perkins is a former Secretary of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and a public affairs consultant with a number of unions among his client list.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 23 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy