Australias minimum wage must “adequately” reward workers and “meet the needs” of families, according to the Catholic Church.

Bishop Christopher Saunders, chairman of the Catholic Social Justice Council, is urging the faithful to consider the position of more than one and a half million Australians, dependent on the minimum wage.

“At a time when wage protection and other aspects of Australia’s industrial Relations system are being question, our attention turns to the needs of almost 1.6 million workers on the minimum wage,” Bishop Saunders wrote Catholics in a May 1 pastoral letter.

Bishop Saunders said there were three standards in church teaching, relevant to minimum wage debate sparked by Workplace Relations Minister, Kevin Andrews.

He said the amounts must …

– adequately reward working people for their labour

– meet the needs of workers and their families

– must not be allowed to fall below the level of subsistence

Bishop Saunders reminded parishioners that others, including the unemployed and underemployed, also relied on fair minimum payments to protect against poverty.

He said the church had called for a “significant increase” in the minimum wage because, after tax and government benefits, many families still struggled to meet the necessities of life.

“At this time of national prosperity, we should remember the needs of people both in and out of work on the margins of the labour market,” Bishop Saunders wrote in a text entitled “The Minimum Wage in an Age of Prosperity and Wealth”.

He joined the debate as Andrews and Prime Minister, John Howard, flagged their intention to redesign the minimum wage structure in a bid to hold down increases.

The government wants to take the determination out of the IRC, which hears evidence from affected parties, and move it to a group of hand-picked “experts”.

The change would be a victory for its big-business constituency that has aggressively attacked the minimum wage as overly-generous.

Meanwhile, a US minister of religion has set out to answer the century old question – are trade unions instruments of God’s will.

The answer, according to Indianapolis-based Darren Cushman Wood, is yes.

Woodman, also a labour studies professor, has just publish a book Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Support Workers, Rights’ which argues “labour unions are legitimate instruments of God’s will for creating a just society”.