A national conference of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander union delegates in Brisbane today will focus on developing employment and business opportunities and improving industrial rights for Indigenous workers.

ACTU President Sharan Burrow said the second annual Indigenous Union conference aimed to address the continuing economic disadvantage experienced by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Key issues included improved funding of indigenous employment and training, developing local economic opportunities and developing a national safety-net Award for workers in the Community Development and Employment Program scheme.

The two-day conference brings together more than 60 union delegates from around Australia. Speakers will include Bob Weatherall of the Federation of Aboriginal and Islander Research Action and former Victorian Premier Joan Kirner.

Ms Burrow said that many unions were working to improve their representation of Indigenous employees but more needed to be done.

“The economic inequality experienced by Indigenous Australians is obviously linked to unemployment rates of more than five times that of the general population and income levels around 30% below the national average.

“Rapid growth in the Indigenous labour market requires major employment initiatives now to prevent rising jobless rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the future.”

Ms Burrow said that Australian businesses could reap economic benefits by promoting indigenous employment by following the lead shown by some major employers including Australia Post, Accor Hotels, Qantas, Telstra, and Coles Myer.