Unions are teaming up with anti-Intervention campaigners in the NT to demand proper jobs for Aboriginal people.
Activists from the Intervention Rollback Action Group, based in Alice Springs, will tour remote NT communities in April along with Richard Downs, a community leader from Ampilatwatja and Miguel Occiones, an LHMU organiser in the NT.
Unions are hoping to sign up Aboriginal workers on local services for the new mega Shires. Much of this work was previously done under Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP), and workers paid through local councils. But as Alice Springs LHMU organiser Miguel Occiones told Solidarity:
“Now jobs that need to be done within the community are being done by people working for the BasicsCard, [on] $200 a week. What we are afraid of in the union movement is it’s taking away jobs that are full-time within the community into being done by people working for the BasicsCard.”
Any worker who has started on a CDEP job since July last year is paid only a Centrelink allowance, and receives no money from their employer.
In Tennant Creek the rationalisation of CDEP has seen the number of workers in the program go from over 400 in July last year to 130. The remaining CDEP workers are all employed by Julalikari council in services like aged care, childcare and other municipal work.
One of these programs in Tennant Creek is the Housing and Community Care program. Bobby, a supervisor in the program told Solidarity what this involves:
“We look after old people. We give them a feed, give them a bath, wash their clothes, take them shopping, to the bank, ask them what they want you know? There are lots of old people here in Tennant Creek who we look after. Some stay with us, or we visit at their home.”
CDEP does not provide proper award wages for workers: “Some of our workers are on CDEP”, Bobby said. “They work from 8-12. They help with all the work.”
“But they only get a little bit of money. It’s no good. They can’t buy their clothes, or their rent. They can’t buy tucker for their family or a power card for their house. They should get paid proper wages you know?”
But the BasicsCard means even less money for doing the same work. As Bobby put it:
“It’s like the old days. It was just work for rations in those days, for clothes and a bit of tucker. We’re going back to that now, when we should be going forward.”
The Intervention has betrayed people’s hopes, according to Miguel, “they were promised jobs when the new Shires came in and that the Intervention would help them get into full-time work. But that’s not happening.”
In fact the shutdown of CDEP has resulted in thousands of job losses in Aboriginal communities across the NT. Unions are planning a recruitment drive to organise workers either still on the old CDEP system who face losing their existing jobs or those already being forced to do the same work for Centrelink payments on the BasicsCard.
Miguel said, “At the moment we’re just starting to open up a campaign. I presented these things to the [LHMU] delegates conference in Darwin recently. The idea is to get people that have full-time work in the community aware and get them [to] identify full-time work that could be changed into BasicsCard work and [start] a campaign.”
“We want the broader union movement to see what’s taking place and what the union movement can do as a whole. We are still in the initial stages. What we intend to do is support people who are doing things like rallies, on May 1 they are doing an anti-Intervention rally in Alice Springs and we are inviting unions to participate and listen to what people have to say.”

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