Australian Technology Park, Sydney, 12 March 2014
I bring you 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 Affairs Director for the NSW Council of Churches.
I was interested to read some time ago on the Take the Time website, that:
The extension of retail trading hours into … unsociable working times over the last 30 years has facilitated [a serious] 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.
It is 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.
Why are the churches involved? Three years ago I wrote a submission on behalf of our Baptist Churches to the NSW Government’s Review into Shop Trading Provisions. The Baptist Churches of NSW and the ACT took the view then, and continue to take it now, that:
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 allow workers to attend, and serve as volunteers, in religious services held on restricted trading days. Four and a half days out of 365 days in a year is not too great a burden for employers to carry in support of the common good.
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.
Last time I checked, Jesus Christ was not in the service of the Australian Retailers Association, or any other privileged group, nor any political party. But he was committed to the welfare and just entitlements of ordinary working women and men.
Christians who identify as Baptists in NSW stand in solidarity with you and many others in opposing the proposed deregulation of retail trading arrangements in NSW.
Rod Benson is an ordained Baptist minister, and works as Ethicist and Public Theologian at the Tinsley Institute, Morling College, Sydney.