The plight Bernadette Lau

The plight Bernadette Lau

I received a surprise call from a person I least expected and whom I hardly know. It was Mdm.Bernadette Lau, the former sacristan of NBVM. She was so upset as she related how she had been terminated from her job. I would like to share the plight of this old lady with fellow members of NBVM.

According to Bernadette, she had been serving the church for the past 20 years, being first employed during the tenure of Fr.Murphy Pakiam who is now the Archbishop of KL. She had been a paid a salary and allowances totally RM900.00 per month. As an independent contract worker, she worked long and irregular hours without leave or overtime.

In a letter dated 20 July 2011, the present PP of NBVM, issued a 3-month notice to terminate her services. She was shocked and despite verbal appeal to allow her to work another 2 years, he was adamant that she leave. She says she was sacked without any reason being given which she described as unjust and is very upset. I am sure the PP has his reasons for terminating her service which was not revealed to her.

Out of anger and despair she lodged a complaint with the labour department where the officer in charge advised that she settle it out of court. Based on some formula, he suggested the church pay her RM12, 000 as retirement benefits for her maintenance as she is already 67years and not married. The representatives from NBVM were not agreeable and the case is due in January 2012.

Most of the parishioners feel that she should be paid a token sum for all the years of services to the church. The amount derived must be determined by some formula based on our labour laws. Consideration must be given to the fact she did not resign or retire but was terminated against her wishes for reasons not revealed. The majority of parishioners I spoke to agree that the sum of RM12,000 is reasonable and within the means of the Church.

The legality and status of her employment are within the jurisdiction of the labour Department and the Labour Court so is the quantum to be paid in compensation.

To my mind the question here is not so much of legal rights but compassion to an old woman who had served God in the church for two decades under so many priests. The employer, the church, is not a corporate organisation fighting a legal battle against a huge corporate institution over millions of ringgit. The employer is the church that is fighting against an old woman who served well for so many years over a few thousand ringgit which it can well afford.

The main issue here is not legal rights but compassion by which the by church should be governed. Looking the way this issue was handled it looks as though the church does not have any compassion especially for the poor and downtrodden which is indeed a very sorry state of affairs. Why do we a need an institution that says it represents Jesus but does not have compassion, one of the His basic teachings?

As a catholic and member of the NBVM, I am deeply disturbed that our church will be dragged into a court case that will not help its image in the eyes of the non-catholics. The PP is not just an individual but represents the parishioners of NBVM in particular and the Catholic community in general. He must not do anything to bring disrespect to the community he represents and the institution based on Christ’s teachings of love, compassion and humility.

While we wait for an amicable settlement of this dispute, let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will guide Bernadette, the PP and the PPC to submit to the rules laid down not by any human court but by Jesus Himself.

Meanwhile as fellow members of NBVM, let’s show our care and concern for this old woman during this season of Christmas in any way we can. As we celebrate this joyous occasion of the birth of Christ, let’s share that joy and happiness with someone who is in need and definitely Bernadette is one such person whom we must touch during this season.

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