Speech at launch of Take the Time

SDA New South Wales Branch Secretary Mr Gerard Dwyer addresses the audience at tonight’s launch of the Take the Time campaign.

I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet tonight, and pay respect to their elders past and present, and I extend that respect to other Indigenous people present here tonight.

Greetings from the Baptist Churches of NSW and the ACT, and from the NSW Council of Churches.  My name is Rod Benson. I am an ordained Baptist minister, ethicist, and public theologian, and serve also as Public Affairs Director for the NSW Council of Churches.

Thank you, Gerard Dwyer, for the invitation to speak at this launch of the Take the Time campaign.  I am pleased to be here to support the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), the largest trade union in Australia, in this initiative to oppose further deregulation of longstanding retail trading arrangements in NSW.

I was interested to read, on the Take the Time website this afternoon, that

The extension of retail trading hours into these unsociable working times over the last 30 years has facilitated this decline in our relationships and our capacity to do the things which make us truly human. Contrary to common belief, many retail and service industry workers do not freely choose to work at these times.

That sounds like something a theologian would write! It’s fundamentally not a question of the market, or economics, or freedom for more shopping, but a question of quality relationships, and what it takes to be truly, fully, flourishingly human. The O’Farrell Government’s move to deregulate restricted retail trading hours in NSW is an attack on shared leisure time for all of us. I am especially grateful for those who have shared their personal stories tonight, illustrating what these changes will mean for individuals, families, friends and local communities.

Why are the churches getting involved? Last year, on behalf of my employer, I wrote a submission to the Review into Shop Trading Provisions of the Retail Trading Act 2008 and the associated Discussion Paper released in September 2011.

The Baptist Churches of NSW and the ACT take a view on work and employment issues that is based on a cluster of guiding principles, including the following:

1.  All persons are created equal, without exception, in the image of God, and must therefore be treated with dignity and respect, including in the workplace.

2.  Workers are not to be considered as merely instrumental in the production of goods and services.

3.  Work done should be justly remunerated.

4.  Workers have a right to adequate rest from their employment.

5.  A healthy work-life balance delivers benefits to workers, their families, their employers and the whole community and employers should take care not to impose responsibilities on their employees which lead to a deterioration in work-life balance.

We believe the current restrictions on retail trading hours should be retained in NSW in order to support a healthy work-life balance and to permit workers to attend, and serve as volunteers, in religious services held on restricted trading days.  We do not believe that the number of restricted trading days should be reduced.

The state has a responsibility to serve and protect the interests of its citizens with respect to employment conditions and entitlements.  These are easily eroded or removed by commercial and corporate pressures, and once reduced are difficult to reinstate.

This is why the achievement of the goals of the Take the Time campaign is of such significance to faith communities as well as unions and other community groups.

I can announce tonight that the Baptist Churches of NSW and the ACT have made an in-principle agreement to join the Sydney Alliance, in part because we see the value of collaborating and campaigning with other groups on common causes and the major social issues of the day affecting ordinary Australians.

Last time I checked, Jesus Christ was not in the service of the Australian Retailers Association, or other privileged groups, nor of any particular political party. But he was committed to the welfare and just entitlements of ordinary working women and men.

Jesus did not come to strengthen existing power structures, nor to reward the power elites, but to dismantle and disempower them – where they are demonstrably corrupt, or where their partisan interests and influence is corrupting.

We stand in solidarity with you in opposing the proposed deregulation of retail trading arrangements in NSW, and urge everyone to take the time, and take the first step today, by emailing your local MP and signing the petition opposing the further deregulation of retail trading hours.

Thank you.

If you liked this, you might like my “Biblical context for workplace relations.”

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