Campaigners from the First Nations Workers Alliance (FNWA), including three MUA members from Port Botany in Sydney, visited Central Australia in October to campaign against the exploitative Community Development Program (CDP).

The unionists held workplace meetings in Santa Teresa and Tennant Creek and a large meeting with CDP workers in Alice Springs to encourage people to join the FNWA.

“One of the main things that the Intervention did was remove [jobs] which allowed us to live and work on our homelands and communities, to serve these communities,” a statement passed at the Alice Springs meeting, said. “With the new CDP scheme, we are being pushed to move into town to report to Centrelink and look for work… We need rights to live and work on our own lands, with resources to build a better future for our children.”

The CDP is clearly racist, with Aboriginal workers making up more than 80 per cent of people on the scheme Australia wide. The FNWA was started by the ACTU last year to fight the scheme and campaign for properly paid jobs in Aboriginal communities.

CDP participants in remote areas are required to work for 25 hours a week, 52 weeks a year to receive Centrelink payments. This equates to an hourly rate of between $10.80 and $11.70 per hour for workers on Newstart and $8.75 per hour for workers on Youth Allowance—well below award wages. CDP workers are also excluded from industrial rights such as workers’ compensation, superannuation and occupational health and safety protections. To make things worse, across the Northern Territory, most CDP workers are on the BasicsCard, meaning they receive only half of this money in cash.

CDP workers described widespread hunger as people struggle to afford groceries on their allowance. Missing one day’s work without approval can result in a $50-$70 reduction in pay and multiple days missed can lead to payments being cut off entirely for eight weeks. Workers said people were going without prescribed medications because they cannot afford them. Some discussed the threat of being evicted from housing and the flow on effects of this, including intervention by “child protection” in family life.

Figures released in June showed an extraordinary 300,000 fines have been imposed on CDP participants over the past two years. This accounts for more than half of all penalties imposed on welfare recipients in Australia, despite CDP workers comprising less than 5 per cent of them.

MUA member Naomi Cain, an MUA delegate from DP World at Port Botany said, “it was horrifying to see the unjust and inhumane working conditions Aboriginal people in this region are being subjected to… If there were these sorts of conditions in our industry we would all be on strike until there was change. That’s the kind of power we need to build”.

By Paddy Gibson

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