Exploiting Workers Is a Mortal Sin, Says Pope

Exploiting Workers Is a Mortal Sin, Says Pope


Pope Francis has sent a warning to employers who exploit workers by not paying them their proper wages and benefits.  During his recent homily at the Chapel of Domus Santa Marthae, the pontiff said those “who exploit labour, who pay under the table, who don’t pay pension contributions, who don’t give holidays… (who are) skimming on what must be paid” are “not in God’s grace”.  “Woe to you!” he continued “If you don’t pay, your injustice is a mortal sin.

The Pope says this is because withholding wages and other entitlements is the opposite of charity and puts the love of money before God.

His homily confirms that worker exploitation is not just a legal or political issue but also a grave offence against God’s law. Employers who deliberately and knowingly rip off their workers are not only risking fines and civil prosecutions but also their relationship with God.

Catholic teachings clearly affirm the right of workers to a just wage and for employers to pay what is owed to them. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2434 and 2435) states:

A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice.  In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good. Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages. … It is unjust not to pay the social security contributions required by legitimate authority.


Lessons for Catholic employers

CCER’s members are generally well aware of their legal and moral obligations to pay workers their correct wages and entitlements. While we do on some occasions assist employers resolve underpayments, in the main these have occurred inadvertently, for example, due to a payroll error or mistake in classification.  While an accidental underpayment is not considered a mortal sin, it is still something to avoid.  Here are our top five tips to ensuring your staff get the correct pay and benefits.


  1. Get classifications correct from the start

When appointing a new employee, ensure they are correctly classified based on their skills, competencies, experience and duties.  Employees can be covered by a Modern Award, enterprise agreement or be Award free, so it’s important you know which applies before they start working. The correct classification and pay point (where applicable), as well as weekly/ fortnightly wage/salary or hourly rate should be noted in your contract of employment. CCER has template contracts for our members.


  1. Keep up to date with future wage increases

If your employees are covered by an enterprise agreement, ensure you keep track of, and pay all scheduled pay increases listed in the agreement.  If you have rates in your agreement that are close to Modern Award rates, you also need to be mindful of changes to those rates (see below), to ensure the agreement rates don’t fall below the Modern Award rates.

If your employees are covered by a Modern Award, or is Award free, be aware that the national minimum wage and Modern Award rates increased in Australia by 3.5% from first full pay period on or after 1 July 2018. Your employee must receive rates at least equal to these new minimums to avoid an underpayment. CCER has posted the new pay schedules on our website, you can access them here.


  1. New qualifications sometimes mean more pay

Under some Awards or agreements, employees who complete certain qualifications are entitled to more pay. For example, teachers with two years’ service who gain accreditation at the level of proficiency are eligible to move to a new pay band. Check your Award or agreement for any rules and processes that might apply in this regard.


  1. Keep a look out for roles that have changed

Often employee’s roles can evolve organically, particularly when they have been in your organisation for some time. For example, they may take on supervisory duties or tasks involving higher levels of skills and competencies. Often this may attract a higher rate of pay under an Award or agreement.

To avoid misunderstanding, CCER recommends employers have processes in place to regularly review the roles within your organisation, so you can clearly define what you require and expect from your employees. If you find that an employee’s role has substantively changed since their appointment, a new classification may be required, along with a new contract of employment. We recommend contacting CCER’s team  of Employment Relations Specialists for further advice.


  1. Keep an eye on overtime

Sometimes employees work extra hours without your approval, and will later seek to claim the extra hours as overtime. To avoid misunderstanding, inform your staff that all additional hours and overtime must in the first instance be formally approved by a manager or that their salary compensates them for overtime worked.




Kirrily McDermott is an Employment Relations Specialist at CCER. 

For further information or advice on issues relating to underpayment, do not hesitate to call CCER’s team of Employment Relations Specialists on 02 9390 5255.

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