Growing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Union Leadership – ACTU Indigenous leadership conference
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 5, 27 July 2018, p20
Since 2017, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has been strongly committed to actively engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers and community activists.
Through the ACTU’s excellent work with the First Nations Workers Alliance and the provision of a nationwide schedule of Indigenous leadership conferences, the union movement is generating positive engagement with activists in our communities. The goal to is to empower our leadership and develop future union and community organisers by working in our workplace and organisations.
Currently, 159 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers have engaged in the ACTU conferences. Former teacher and QTU member Wayne Costello, the ACTU’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Training Officer, delivered the Queensland conferences in Rockhampton, Cairns and Brisbane. Wayne’s productive schedule has also included presenting at other conferences in New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania, with another 170 participants registered.
The ACTU strongly advocates for all unions to support their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members in registering for the workshops to build and strengthen their activism within their respective unions and local communities. The Queensland conferences had members attending from the QTU, United Voice, the ETU, Together, the AWU, the CSA (the public service union) and the Australian Services Union.
The conferences cover a lot of themes in one day. A key focus was on organising unrepresented workers. As teachers working in communities across the state, QTU members are familiar with the Community Development Program (CDP), which forces the population of remote communities into labour with none of the benefits of employment enjoyed by every other Australian worker. One action we can all take is to spread the word to colleagues, friends and community members about the program and the work the ACTU is doing to organise CDP workers in this “liar” program.
CDP workers have not previously been represented by any union. The ACTU First Nations Workers Alliance (FNWA) has been created to organise in this space. A significantly high percentage of CDP workers are located in remote and rural communities throughout Australia. The program is a travesty, with CDP workers not classified as workers, not covered by the Fair Work Act and with no access to sick leave, carers leave or annual leave. Nor do these workers have access to workers compensation if they are injured in their workplaces. This lack of basic conditions is disgraceful. Further CDP workers have 70 times more penalties applied than other workers in work for the dole type programs.
Currently, of the 35,000 CDP participants (classified as unpaid workers), over 33,000 are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The original Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) was implemented in the 1970s specifically focused on unemployed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
In 2018, the ACTU developed The First Nations Workers Alliance (FNWA) to respond to calls from CDP workers seeking a collective voice to fight against the unfair and discriminatory program which had been imposed on these workers and their communities. The FNWA believes that CDP workers should receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. The FNWA are seeking the support of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander union members and non-Indigenous members to lend their voice in support by registering membership online at https://fnwa.org.au/