AUSTRALIA’S Turnbull Government is backing laws that force Indigenous people into work, not for wages, only welfare.
The ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions), including Secretary Dave Oliver and Indigenous Officer Kara Keys, joined with affiliate unions and local Indigenous people in Darwin on Tuesday morning to draw attention to the ongoing fight for wage justice for Indigenous Australians.
The ACTU is in Darwin this week for its National Executive meeting as a demonstration of the ongoing strong bond between Indigenous people and the union movement on the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill Walk Off.
The Gurindji strike (or Wave Hill Walk-Off) was a walk-off and strike by 200 Gurindji stockmen, house servants and their families in August 1966 at Wave Hill cattle station in Kalkarindji (formerly known as Wave Hill), Northern Territory. On 23 August 1966, Gurindji tribal elder Vincent Lingiari led 200 Aboriginal workers off their jobs at the Wave Hill cattle station, 800 kilometres south of Darwin, where they worked for the British pastoral company Vestey. It was a strike that would last seven years.
ACTU Indigenous Officer Kara Keys: ‘The anniversary is a reminder of the fact that half a century of struggle has produced a lot of progress, but leaves a lot left to be done, especially with regard to the oppressive Community Development Programme, which imposes harsher requirements on workers in remote communities than those in metropolitan areas.
‘This is a programme which discriminates on the basis of race, and has no place in a modern society. The ACTU will be taking a resolution to its executive tomorrow in Darwin seeking approval to explore all possible means of removing the CDP and replacing it with a more equitable alternative that will place Indigenous people in control of their own futures.’
The ACTU executive has adopted a resolution authorising all means at the organisations disposal to be mobilised against the Turnbull Government’s racially discriminatory Community Development Programme. The resolution will kick-start exploration of legal and legislative challenges to the programme, as well as the mobilisation of campaign resources.
The ACTU is committed to seeing the removal of this policy, which forces the overwhelmingly Indigenous population of remote communities into labour with none of the benefits of employment enjoyed by every other Australian worker. These workers’ labour is without the protection of federal OHS standards or worker’s compensation and earns no superannuation.
ACTU Secretary, Dave Oliver said: ‘This is a programme of racial discrimination, harking back to the days of the Wave Hill Walk Off, the 50th anniversary of which we celebrate this week. The union movement cannot, and will not, allow a policy which denies workers their rights and creates a two-tiered unemployment system, to stand.
‘Unions have pulled together to oppose a policy which is not only racially discriminatory, but also attacks rights at work, places downward pressure on wages, and downward pressure on wage-paying jobs.’
ACTU Indigenous Officer, Kara Keys said: ‘The resolution passed today is the first step toward a campaign which seeks to dismantle the CDP, and the entire union movement has now committed to this common goal. This is a programme which discriminates on the basis of race, and has no place in a modern society. The ACTU looks forward to a future in which all Australian workers are treated equally, where Indigenous people are not treated as second-class workers and are given the same opportunities and rights at work that any Australian worker rightfully expects.’
• A former miner has died due to complications from Black Lung, the CFMEU has claimed. It comes as 11 miners have been diagnosed with the disease, known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis. Last month 18 miners were retested for the disease following US reviews of the X-rays, after they were found to have traces of Black Lung which were missed in Australian scans.
Now the CFMEU believe a former miner, one of three new cases brought to its attention recently, has passed away from the disease. On the back of this, the mining union also claims there are likely 30 yet-to-be-confirmed cases of the disease, including the previously mentioned 18. CFMEU district president Steve Smyth believes the number of black lung cases will only escalate, with a miner as young as 39 identified with the disease to date.
‘This is a crisis and the union has been warning the numbers will skyrocket for some time – that is starting to happen now but unfortunately we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg,’ he said.
Smyth also called for the QLD Government to act in enforcing stricter coal dust limits and independent monitoring, as well as more training for doctors who assess the health of coal workers. He said mining companies were incapable of enforcing limits internally, ‘Self-regulation has proved an absolute disaster.’
‘We know that mining companies are afraid of having independent inspectors coming in to check dust levels and you don’t have to be a genius to figure out why – they’re simply not operating at legal levels and they don’t want to,’ he said. People will continue to get black lung disease until we reduce dust levels in Queensland coal mines and stop this crazy situation where mining companies, who caused this problem, get to control the monitoring and compliance regime.’
The union believes the re-emergence of the disease was partly by caused the number of inadequately trained medical advisors conducting health assessments on mining workers. Currently, there are 237 nominated medical advisors, including occupational physicians and GPs, registered to conduct the health assessments, which the union says is nearly 30 times too many.
The Sim review into Black Lung suggested a smaller number of doctors for the assessments; the union said it should be no more than eight, but more highly trained, as there is currently no formal system for assessing or training the doctors. The review found that out of 256 lung function test samples, 40 per cent were poorly conducted by the selected doctors, and 41 per cent of the tests were not accurately interpreted.
The union said these findings should emphasise the need for proper training of all radiographers and doctors who assess coal worker’s health to international standards.
They are also calling for radiologists to be trained in the B-reader programme, which was implemented in the United States for more consistency in the reading of coal miners’ X-rays.
Smyth added that the current lax enforcement of coal dust regulations and poor medical training ‘is now costing dozens of miners their lives and many more their health. This situation needs to be ended now.’
• The AMWU (Australian Manufacturing Workers Union) has strongly warned against weakening Victoria’s asbestos protections after reports that WorkSafe is considering excluding work on buildings constructed after 2003 from mandatory checking for the deadly substance.
The proposed change in a draft set of new WorkSafe regulations has been quietly pushed by property developers and backed by the Housing Industry Association, according to a report in Fairfax media. AMWU Victorian State Secretary Steve Dargavel said it would be among issues he would be taking up next week when he meets the minister for WorkSafe, Robin Scott.
‘Asbestos keeps being discovered in imported building materials on new construction projects, so it would be outrageous if WorkSafe considered winding back compulsory asbestos checks for any work on buildings put up after 2003,’ Dargavel said. If anything, we need WorkSafe being far more proactive because Border Force are failing to properly check imports. We’ve identified numerous instances where imported parts containing asbestos are being used in machinery which manufacturing workers are expected to maintain.’
Last month, the discovery of asbestos tiles and building materials imported from China by supplier Yuanda caused major disruption to building projects in Brisbane and Perth. Unions had not been told by WorkSafe Victoria during the past two years of detailed discussions on updating safety regulations that any rules governing asbestos were subject to change. Final submissions on the updating of regulations are due next month.
Dargavel said the weakening of Australian protections was a flow-on from free trade agreements like that with China, which increased imports of materials where we could not verify the authenticity of Material Safety Data Sheets. ”I think we’ll see employers increasingly seeking to weaken Australian protections in the name of free trade agreements so they can cut costs, whether it be importing unsafe steel or relaxing checks on asbestos,’ he said.