Unions will take a new campaign against a work-for-the-dole program for indigenous people to the “grassroots” of impoverished remote communities without offering an alternative plan.
This week, the ACTU’s national executive adopted a policy to work for the axing of the Community Development Program after branding the so-called make-work initiative oppressive and discriminatory, as it creates a two-tiered unemployment system.
The decision was made by the unions’ top brass in Darwin, meeting there to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill Station walk-off that gave rise to the Aboriginal land rights movement.
ACTU indigenous officer Kara Keys admitted that unions had no alternative to the CDP, which requires indigenous people to work at least 25 hours to qualify for unemployment benefits under a mutual obligation deal.
“We would like the entire system completely dismantled and we would like the government to take a consultation-based approach to coming up with something fair,” Ms Keys said.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said remote communities in which the CDP operated had fewer work opportunities and the $1.5 billion scheme had been tailored to help them.
“This was the case under previous Labor governments and will be the case into the future,” he said in a statement.
“The CDP is a welfare program designed to support jobseekers into work. It is not, and should not be considered, a job in itself.”
Rejecting the ACTU campaign as predictable and hypocritical, Senator Scullion said unions had raised no concerns about mutual obligation measures introduced by the Rudd government in 2009.
Reforms pushed through last year required CDP participants to work longer hours than in mainstream employment schemes in the city, and imposed heavy penalties for non-compliance.
Under the “no show, no pay” provisions, registered jobseekers can be fined up to $50 a day for not turning up — potentially consuming the average Newstart benefit of about $500 a fortnight.
Ms Keys said the ACTU was seeking legal advice on whether the CDP was lawful.
About 37,000 people were covered by the scheme in remote areas, 31,000 of whom were indigenous. Unions would also campaign against the program at the “grassroots” level in communities, Ms Keys said.
The ACTU was reaching out to crossbenchers in federal parliament to back legislative changes.
“The program that has … been rolled out by the federal government is probably the most pernicious, disempowering program of its type we have ever seen,” Ms Keys said. “And we know that the jobs people are doing are jobs that they used to be paid to do … attracting a wage, superannuation and the benefits of employment.
“Now they have been moved on to the Newstart Allowance, and they do that work for well under the minimum wage.”
This was because the CDP had increased the time people were required to participate in the scheme for 25 hours of work-like activity, across five days a week. In one case in north Queensland, indigenous workers employed by a local council had been moved on to the CDP, cutting their pay and benefits.
Asked whether indigenous communities would be asked to boycott the federal scheme, she said: “At the moment … we are putting together a campaign plan. We are looking at all the elements.”
Ms Keys could not say what would replace the CDP, but said a “great deal of innovative policy work has been done in this space”.
Jamie Walker, Assistant Editor, Brisbane, The Australian 8th Aug 2016