Decisions affecting people’s working lives should consider their impact on workers, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, Caritas has told a government select committee looking at Easter Sunday trading.
Lisa Beech told the Commerce Select Committee last month Caritas did not support any changes to the law governing trading on Easter Sunday.
Citing a frequent claim that retail workers have a choice about working on Sunday, Lisa argued that low-paid employees are under ‘enormous pressure’ to work at weekends.
Catholic social teaching on work has as a central principal that work is for the worker, not the worker for work. This means that decisions need to be made according to what is best for the worker rather than for the work.
The Second Sweating Commission reported in 1990 that lifting restrictions on shop hours in 1977 and 1980 led to the casualisation of the retail workforce and undermined the ability of unions and workers to protect the wages and conditions of low-paid workers.
The commission, which included Cardinal Tom Williams and Sr Pauline O’Regan, concluded that removal of restrictions on shop trading hours and labour reforms later implemented in the Employment Contracts Act, would continue to marginalise this group of vulnerable, mostly female, workers.
Lisa said that for many people work is increasingly intruding on time that used to be reserved for worship, family and community activities.
‘This reflects poorly on our society’s work/life balance with New Zealanders currently working the second longest number of hours in the OECD, after Japan.’
‘We believe that the government should be doing more to promote a work/life balance and to promote more time and opportunities for families to come together.
‘Reducing or removing the few remaining restrictions on shop trading hours cannot help achieve that.’
Pope John Paul II put the church’s position on Sunday obligations in 1998 saying Sundays were more than times of communal worship – they were opportunities for building community.
‘Opportunities to strengthen and develop spiritual, social, cultural, community and family ties in our communities are infrequent in our commercially driven society … the value to the community cannot be measured only in commercial terms,’ Lisa told the select committee.
Cardinal Williams said after the lifting of Sunday trading restrictions in 1990: ‘If profit is to take priority over people, the outcome will be a society less human and more stressful for individuals, families and the community at large.’