On a cold wet Friday morning in Melbourne, over 600 people gathered on the steps of Southern Cross railway station on the corner of Spencer and Bourke Streets to draw attention to the link between poverty and insecure employment. The rally was addressed by Professor Brian Howe (Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Insecure Work in Australia), Dr Mark Zirnsak (Director Uniting Church Justice & International Mission), as well as Billy Bragg, internationally renowned musician and activist who performed several songs and spoke to the crowd.
Brian Howe highlighted the new divide in the Australian economy: “It is not between the blue-collar and white-collar worker, but between those in the ‘core’ of the workforce and those on the ‘periphery’.” Workers on the periphery “are employed in various insecure arrangements, casual, contract, or through labour hire companies, on low wages, and with no benefits. Many do not know what hours they will work from week to week, and often juggle multiple jobs to attempt to earn what they need.”1
Dr Mark Zirnsak addressed the crowd to assert that it is the responsibility of Christians to ensure systematic change to protect the rights of the poor. “Christians should call on the wealthy to be generous, to put in place systems that address inequality in society.”
Billy Bragg is in Melbourne as part of the Melbourne Festival, to perform works by folk singer Woody Guthrie, famous for his songs about America’s working poor. Bragg has been a social justice activist for over 30 years, and felt it only right to support the rally, telling the crowd, “What you may not be aware of is that he (Woody Guthrie) never did a concert where over 1000 people turned up to hear him play. The only gigs Woody Guthrie did were on picket lines, where there were struggles going on”.
Photo Brian Howe AO.