Sally McManus ratchets up campaign against ‘racist’ work-for-the-dole program


A $1.5 billion work-for-the-dole program that overwhelmingly targets Indigenous communities has been labelled racist by Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus, with the prominent unionist arguing the government’s policy denies Aboriginal people rights enjoyed by other Australians.

In a speech to the Garma Festival on Sunday, Ms McManus will ramp up a union campaign against the Community Development Program, which covers approximately 37,000 mostly Indigenous Australians. While the ACTU has long been hostile to the CDP, the speech marks the union leader’s highest-profile and clearest attack on the program since she was elected in March.


‘I will not keep my head down’: McManus

New ACTU boss Sally McManus doubles down on lawbreaking by backing the CFMEU. (Vision courtesy ABC)

“The bare-faced discrimination of the Community Development Program is a stark reminder that systemic racism endures,” Ms McManus will tell an audience at the high-powered Indigenous event in the Northern Territory, also attended by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and prominent Aboriginal figures.

“Unlike every other ‘work-for-the-dole’ program or the $4 per hour internships the Turnbull government has introduced for young unemployed people, the CDP is compulsory. It is important to remind the rest of Australia of this – we have a system in our country where we make working for social support when unemployed compulsory for some Australians and not others.”

The CDP, announced by the Abbott government and begun in July 2015, requires people to undertake work or training for 25 hours a week for 46 weeks a year in order to receive welfare payments. The scheme operates in approximately 1000 communities and participants undertake activities such as landscaping, cleaning and maintenance.

The ACTU has established a union to represent CDP participants – the First Nations Workers’ Alliance – and launched a national campaign against the policy.

Ms McManus said the program imposes a different set of rules for a group of regional and remote people, 85 per cent of whom are Indigenous. Some participants are working jobs that previously attracted award wages and conditions and the employers are now enjoying free labour.

“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 – so much less rights and protections of any other worker,” she will tell the Garma audience.

The government has consistently and staunchly defended the CDP, arguing it is not discriminatory, applies to all unemployed people in remote communities and equips jobseekers with experience.

A spokesman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said the ACTU was pursuing a “political campaign motivated by the self-interest of the union movement rather than the best interests of remote communities that have called for an end to passive welfare and better engagement in communities”.

ACTU Indigenous officer Lara Watson said the CDP should be replaced with a scheme that mandates minimum award conditions and involves Aboriginal communities in policy development and management.

“In my view, if you’re doing council work, you should be paid as a council worker. If you’re cleaning, you should be paid as a cleaner. I don’t understand how people can be working in remote and regional Australia for less than everyone else in Australia.”

At Garma, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten have also been pressed on the Referendum Council’s recommendations on constitutional change. The Opposition Leader has backed a constitutionally-enshrined “Voice to Parliament” while the Prime Minister has expressed caution about moving too quickly with ambitious proposals.

Mr Shorten has called for a bipartisan parliamentary inquiry to be immediately established to finalise a referendum proposal and consult further with Indigenous leaders on the Makarrata process. 

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