Work woes

INDIGENOUS employment in the resources industry has been an increasingly important issue for the past decade, with inroads in the Pilbara led by Hamersley Iron in the early 1990s.

Local indigenous leaders, however, say not nearly enough has been achieved and ATSIC Commissioner Terry Whitby has been very vocal in recent months in his criticism of companies not taking the issue more seriously.

“It’s not just an indigenous issue, it’s a community issue, but I have concerns for the indigenous aspect because that’s who I represent,” Mr Whitby told Business News.

“The major companies are not being sensitive to indigenous employment strategies, and they’ve only recently started to address this issue since we’ve been talking it up through the media.

“Our message is simply that contractors should start employing Aboriginal people, and we’re looking at investments that are suited to that line of industry, such as scaffolding and rigging teams.

“The representative bodies, like land councils, should be working with us to develop regional strategies and employment frameworks.”

Mr Whitby said ATSIC was looking for partnerships to develop major companies like Aboriginal resource company Ngarda Civil and Mining, but said such investment often was wasted because the companies were overlooked when tendering.

Mr Whitby said there appeared to be several reasons for this, including ‘cosy deals’ between major companies and sub-contractors, and the perennial thorn in the side – fly-in workers.

“If we put major investments into a company like Ngarda Civil and Mining at a time when everyone is preaching economic independence, whether it be industry or government, then we want those opportunities as a right to develop in the economic sense and also as part of the social fabric,” he said.

“There are a lot of people in the Pilbara who are job-ready and they’re just being overlooked because of the fly-in-fly-out arrangements that are in place.”

Mr Whitby said the Federal Government also had helped block indigenous employment.

“The job networks have not been helpful because since that’s been privatised it has become a financially-driven process, which makes them too selective about job placements. And they’re not trusting Aboriginals for their job placement fees,” he said.

“Indigenous employment should be part of the tendering process for big contracts in this region and I don’t want to be talking about percentages all of the time, I want to be talking about actual quotas.”

Mr Whitby said the local indigenous community also had to start thinking about industry outside mining.

“For example just recently we’ve helped set up a tuna fishing boat and some of our CDEP organisations are going alright, and companies should draw from that pool of workers as a transitional stage to get them into long-term employment,” he said.

“Our people have probably more expertise than some of the fly-in workers they’re placing and it’s become quite evident to me that there’s nepotism involved in the fly-in system.

“Husband and wife teams are being employed and football clubs are being favoured so that they can strengthen their local teams.

“We want our people to be hairdressers, check-out operators in supermarkets and all of the normal jobs that non-Aboriginal people enjoy,” he said.

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