Indigenous Workers

Indigenous Workers

Artwork by Lara Watson

Indigenous workers are severely disadvantaged in terms of their access to decent jobs as well as to essential services such as education and health. The commitment by Federal and State Governments to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and other Australians by 2018 must be a priority.

A large proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face unfair barriers to employment because of a lack of skills, a lack of access to education and because of discrimination.

Good jobs with decent wages and conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers is a goal which unions, governments, employers and the whole community must work towards.

Policy and programs designed to respond to Indigenous unemployment and underemployment will only be effective if they respond to the varying situations of Indigenous communities throughout Australia. These include established economies, emerging economies, hybrid economies and limited economies.

Unions recognise, for example, the employment opportunities that the response to climate change can create ‘on country’.

Carbon farming presents a real opportunity to develop economically viable industries and employment while respecting and maintaining customary land management activities.

Unions are strongly committed to promoting equality in the workplace and in the broader society for Indigenous Australians. Unions promote the active participation of Indigenous peoples in trade unions so workers can strive together for social justice, equity and fair representation in workplaces.

While there has been some action to address Indigenous disadvantage more broadly, unions believe that bridging the gap for Indigenous Australians on life expectancy, employment, health, education and living conditions must remain a major national priority.

We acknowledge that the National Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on 13 February 2008 was a significant day in Australian history, and one that was long overdue.

The ACTU believes that the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Constitution of Australia will be a further step towards building a nation based on mutual respect and understanding, and a nation that values its rich history.

To fully recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to remove racial discrimination in the Constitution, the ACTU supports the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the body of the constitutions and supports changes to the Constitution that remove discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, ethnicity or country of origin.

Key facts
Currently, Indigenous Australians are less likely to have a job but if they do, many are paid far less than non-Indigenous workers and have lower job security.

  • The workforce participation rate among the Indigenous population is 53.8%, compared to 75% for the entire population.
  • The unemployment rate for Indigenous Australians is 16.6%, four times the national rate.
  • Indigenous workers are among the most vulnerable in the workforce. Many are employed casually or part-time in jobs that have little security or stability.

What’s next
Unions are calling on the government to properly fund essential services and improve job opportunities by promoting holistic employment and training programs which include access to pre-employment job-readiness training and consistent mentoring services.

The ACTU Indigenous Conference held February 2011 discussed the challenges faced by Indigenous workers, as well as broader issues experienced in Indigenous communities - and developed an action plan on how unions can work to address these challenges.

At the conference, unions pledged a renewed focus on advancing Indigenous rights, and announced a new partnership with Indigenous Australians to campaign to improve the lives of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through decent jobs, sustainable economic development and social justice.