Australia’s Baptist leaders have issued a statement of concern over possible negative impact of federal workplace reforms now before Australia’s parliament.

Billed as “a simpler, fairer national workplace relations system for Australia,” the WorkChoices legislation is aimed at improving productivity, creating jobs in increasing living standards for families.” Opponents say there is no evidence the plan will create new jobs, and that wages for low-paid workers might actually decline.

Ross Clifford, president of the Baptist Union of Australia, joined by leaders from every Australian state and territory, on Thursday pledged to “continue to personally express our concerns about the workplace reforms and to encourage the pastors and attenders of our churches throughout Australia to take an active and informed interest on this and other new legislation.”

The nine leaders encouraged Australian Baptists to study the new legislation and write members of Parliament expressing their views.

“We acknowledge the government’s responsibility in the interests of economic growth,” they said. “We also recognize our responsibility as Christian leaders to uphold the interests of the poor and vulnerable, who will gain least from these reforms.”

Critics of the 700-page bill say it could lead to lowering the minimum wage and depress wages for other workers.

Religious leaders also worry that weekends and leisure time won’t be maintained, not only for the well-being of individuals but so that people can have time to go to church.

The Baptist leaders called on the government to guarantee public holidays and four weeks of annual leave for full-time employees. They also sought guarantees that full-time employees be paid for a 38-hour week and protections against unfair dismissal.

“We express our concern that the bill as it currently stands will result in the erosion of quality family and leisure time for many Australians, and will undermine the balance between employer and employee rights that has served Australia so well,” said the Baptist leaders.

Of particular concern to Australian Baptists, the leaders said, is a new system of negotiating individual workplace agreements. The legislation encourages use of Australian Workplace Agreements, which opponents say could force employees to bargain away their rights.

The Baptists leaders said the plan “may severely disadvantage low-skilled workers, young people, workers of non-English speaking backgrounds, and those who are unemployed.”

“Christians need to be better informed on major social and ethical issues,” said Rod Benson, director of Sydney’s Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College. Articles about WorkChoices are available in Religion & Ethics Australia Digest, which is published weekly by Benson’s organization, and on the government Web site,

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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