Australia’s top union official and a former Liberals deputy leader have attacked the federal government’s work for the dole scheme as a racially discriminatory policy that unfairly targets remote indigenous communities.
In a speech to the Garma Festival on Sunday, Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said the controversial Community Development Program denies participates living in remote regions, 85 per cent of whom are Aboriginal, the same basic workplace rights afforded to other Australians.
“The discrimination of the Community Development Program is a stark reminder that systemic racism endures,” she told the festival in northeast Arnhem Land.
“The workers are being paid $10 per hour – way less than the minimum wage of $18.86, with no rights, no leave, no superannuation, no workers compensation.”
Former Liberal deputy leader Fred Chaney said the $1.5 billion initiative, which covers more than 35,000 mostly Aboriginal people, has seriously disadvantaged vulnerable people.
“It has caused pain and indeed hunger,” he said.
“They should be in a work-like situation, not imprisoned in a (system) of immense complexity which is causing immense hardship through breaching.”
The coalition government has come under fire for issuing more than 200,000 fines to CDP workers who breach their requirements since it began in July 2015. A review is underway.
Jobseekers must do 25 hours of work per week, 52 weeks per year, to receive welfare payments, which is up to three times longer than other unemployed people.
“For non-remote programs, it’s 15 hours a week, six months of the year. And CDP workers, in our poorest communities, are being fined at a rate 70 times higher than metropolitan work-for-the-dole programs,” Ms McManus said.
This year the ACTU set up the First Nations Workers’ Alliance to represent CDP participants, who it says are being exploited by businesses for free labour in jobs that were once paid award wages.
A spokesman for Senator Scullion said under the scheme jobseekers living in the biggest cities and remote communities have mutual obligations of up to 25 hours work per week.
The minister’s spokesman said a new CDP model will be developed in partnership with Aboriginal groups with proposals to introduce a wage-based
system with top up arrangements to better support the transition to employment, weekly payments and more funding for local community activities.