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Issue #1724      March 23, 2016

Union fears over new Govt scheme

Unions are concerned that the federal government’s plans for the new Community Development Program (CDP) will mean Indigenous people in remote communities will be forced to work five hours a day for five days a week, every week of the year, for their Centrelink payments.

The Purarrka Indigenous Mining Academy graduates find work on resources projects. (Photo: Ngarda)

The Australian Council of Trade Unions’ (ACTU) peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander committee met in Cairns to discuss and plan a union-wide strategy around concerns about the plans.

ACTU national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander officer Kara Keys said there was some irony around the timing, given the committee was also there to plan celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off, when Gurindji hero Vincent Lingiari led a seven-year strike for better conditions, equal pay and return of land.

“We’re very concerned about the CDP and the impact that it’s having on Aboriginal workers in our communities,” Keys said. “The CDP was introduced in July last year and is basically a new work-for-the-dole program.

“It replaced the Remote Jobs and Communities Program (RJCP), which replaced the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP).”

Keys said it was set up to force people into work.

“People have to work 25 hours a week, five hours a day, five days a week for 52 weeks a year for well below the minimum wage,” she said. “This is a remote scheme, so it disproportionally affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers.

“In the mainstream – in regional centres and in urban centres – the work-for-the-dole scheme is 15 hours a week for six months.

“For Aboriginal workers, or for our remote workers, which we all know have 80 percent or above Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, it is 25 hours a week for 52 weeks a year. The policy is clearly discriminatory.”

Keys said the legislation also opened up the program to commercial businesses, basically providing a free pool of labour.

Under the CDEP scheme, participants were employed by community organisations for a limited number of hours and paid a wage. There was also an option of working more hours for a top-up payment.

“What we have seen and the anecdotal evidence that is coming to the ACTU via our delegates in communities is that a lot of these workers are doing work that they used to get paid for under CDEP,” Keys said.

“Work for free”

“They’re doing work for local councils, they’re doing work for schools, and there’s a potential they could be doing work for free for for-profit businesses and other commercial businesses in communities.”

Committee member Celeste Liddle, from Victoria, said most of the roles would usually be covered by local government workers. “Even in the field of private enterprise, they’d be covered by real wages,” she said. “It says a lot about the provision of services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in remote areas.

“The rest of Australia doesn’t have to struggle for these very, very basic community-focused roles.

“The fact that people still have to struggle for the basics and they have to bargain and provide them pretty much free of cost is just atrocious.”

Victorian Steve Walsh said there had been a lot of discussion in his region about how people were being treated as workers. “It’s also that they’re put into a situation where they’re being made to move away from their own local communities and their families, which disadvantages them from being able to be a part of the community that they were brought up in,” he said.

“They’re actually being made to travel over more than 200 kilometres away from their community – that takes away their self-determination.”

Townsville delegate Patrick Neliman agreed.

“What’s happened to all these workers in these communities is not a lifestyle choice; it’s a condition put upon them to deny them a life that everyone else has, so it restricts their quality of life, and that will affect the generations,” he said.

Tommy Sebasio, from Bamaga at the tip of Cape York, said he had seen people going to work knowing they weren’t going to be paid properly and wouldn’t get their full entitlements.

“Basically, it’s fairly denigrating; people walking around in very clean, bright new uniforms, hanging their head – they know they’re not being very productive for their family, really,” he said.

“It’s certainly a sad thing to see every day when we see trucks of contractors coming in to our community and working there. And it’s passed down – we’re trying to break that cycle from one generation to another and, if anything, it’s getting worse.

“We’re supposed to be preparing these people for work and getting them into work; it’s been having the opposite effect.”

Koori Mail

Next article – WA govt waters down fracking rules

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