Comparing the circumstances of the richest and poorest Australians following the global financial crisis,

he says, ‘How we respond to the needs of the poorest individuals and families will characterise the spirit of this nation.

‘Over the past decade, minimum wages have fallen further behind average weekly earnings. Safety net wages, even when supplemented by family benefits, have not prevented families falling into poverty or coming close to it.

‘In 2009, the Australian Fair Pay Commission imposed a wage freeze on 1.6 million safety net workers with the aim of preventing job loss and promoting economic recovery. This burden has not been carried proportionally by the average income earner, and still less by those at the highest levels of the wealth spectrum.

‘While the lowest paid workers endure a pay freeze for the sake of Australia’s economic interests, the Productivity Commission recently dismissed suggestions of pay caps or reduced tax concessions on executive remuneration on the grounds that this “could damage our national economic interests”’, Bishop Saunders said.

Drawing on Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical, ‘Charity in Truth’, the Bishop highlights the need for long-term development with adequate protections for low paid and unemployed workers.

‘Equity and justice must be built into the operation of the market and not remain just an afterthought. The market must not be a place where the strong subdue the weak. The minimum wage decision that Fair Work Australia makes in June will be a critical test of this nation’s fairness,’ Bishop Saunders concluded.