18/11/2010 - 00:00

Working on a contribution

18/11/2010 - 00:00

Bookmark

Save articles for future reference.

PROVIDING employment opportunities is the key corporate role in bridging the gap between indigenous living standards and the rest of Australia, according to two of the nation’s business leaders.

Working on a contribution

PROVIDING employment opportunities is the key corporate role in bridging the gap between indigenous living standards and the rest of Australia, according to two of the nation’s business leaders.

Wesfarmers managing director Richard Goyder and Rio Tinto Iron Ore and Australia CEO Sam Walsh both recently told a business forum that jobs were the key part their Perth-based companies can play in reducing the marginalisation of Aboriginal people, as they outlined the strategies their businesses had adopted in this field.

Mr Goyder said employment was a key social indicator of health.

“I think employers like Wesfarmers can actually make a genuine contribution to closing the life expectancy gap by making employment opportunities available,” he told an Australian Institute of Company Directors luncheon this month.

Mr Walsh reiterated this point.

“Our goal is to employ as many Aboriginal people as we can, making a real and positive contribution to the company, its operations and to peoples’ lives,” Mr Walsh said.

“We see this as a direct contribution to closing the gap. It is not about a job, it is building a career and a life.”

Despite the common language of their leaders, however, these companies are miles apart when it comes to indigenous employment.

Rio Tinto has been tackling this issue for a long time and claims nearly 1,000 direct Aboriginal employees, more than 10 per cent of its state workforce, a level believed to make it the biggest private employer of indigenous people in WA and one of the biggest in the nation.

It also has a long track record of other efforts in this field, from the leadership of Aboriginal employment at the Argyle diamond mine, to a host of sponsorship efforts across training, education and community bodies.

Mr Walsh said one of Rio Tinto’s most innovative programs was an arrangement with Roebourne Regional Prison where prisoners are employed on three-month contracts prior to their release.

In contrast, Wesfarmers, the nation’s biggest private employer, is a relative beginner in the field, with about 1,000 Aboriginal employees Australia wide, or less than 1 per cent of its total workforce.

Mr Goyder said some of the best strategic work in the group was inherited with the purchase of retail group Coles, a company that was struggling in its core business.

In recent times, the group has appointed Kate Chaney, the daughter of former managing director Michael Chaney, to head its indigenous affairs at a corporate level. About the same time it adopted a ‘reconciliation action plan’ across the group, although each division is responsible for the implementation of the strategy within its own business unit.

Mr Goyder said the group had sought achievable goals in a realistic time frame and that real impact in the community could be a decade away.

 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

Subscription Options