A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Justice in the Workplace

“The rights of workers must take priority over the maximisation of profits”

Pope John Paul II

by Fr Brian O'Connell sm

In New Zealand at present there are several major industrial disputes happening. These include the Ports of Auckland standoff, the Affco Meat Company works lockout, and The strike by resthome workers, and at least one other. Because it is unusual to have several major disputes at the same time, conspiracy theorists from both sides are having a field day. I have heard that it is a union plot to destabilise the government, and also a government plan to further disempower the unions. Both scenarios are unlikely because recent NZ Governments do not usually get involved in industrial disputes, and with the occasional exception, seem ready to take non-intervention to the limit.

Of the current disputes, the Ports of Auckland struggle looks the most intractable and capable of doing the most harm to the economy. Parallels have been drawn to the bitter 1951 country-wide waterfront dispute which involved unions being deregistered and the NZ Army unloading the boats, leaving a deep scar on our industrial relations landscape for a generation.

It is important not to quote selectively from Church documents to justify a predetermined position. So the above quotation from the encyclical Laborem Exercens does not mean that the social teaching of the Catholic Church always favours the workers over the employers. It is one principle among many in this encyclical, and this is only one encyclical among many others. Pope John Paul II also wrote Centesimo Anno in which he affirmed the legitimacy of the market, though not absolute.

That is why it is healthy that the Churches have offered to mediate in the Ports of Auckland dispute, even if it is just supplying a neutral venue for mediation. Undoubtedly there are committed church- goers on both sides of this dispute, who would appreciate some help from their church.

The statement issued by the Auckland Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission is a good example of how the Church can contribute to this debate, without taking sides or polarising opinion. Part of their statement reproduced on P43 in this edition, explains the issues clearly and dispassionately.

The resolution of this dispute is worth praying for because there is a lot at stake. Not least is the viability of the busiest port in NZ, and the jobs of hundreds of workers. The ‘super-city’ of Auckland has much to lose, not just in its economy. The first mayor is deeply involved as his Council has required greater productivity from the Ports to fund the infrastructure needs of NZ’s largest city.

A just solution would give the Ports Authority the flexibility to work the port at high productivity, and the workers a secure predictable job in a safe environment.

Tagged as: ,

Comments are closed.