Case Studies

“We’re being ripped off!”:

Sheldon, worker with the Strategic Indigenous Housing+Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) Amoonguna

”For three months we patched all the walls, patched the ceiling, painted all inside. When we first got paid, there was $300 on top of our Centrelink
every fortnight. Then that money started going down and down and went out completely. It was just working for the dole. I was on the BasicsCard too. It was a complete rip off.”

Marilyn, SIHIP worker, Amoonguna

“I was working with a team of ladies from 8am – 3pm each day. We were cleaning, stripping paint, painting floors, moving furniture, removing old kitchens. I thought that we were going to be getting good pay, but they kept me on the BasicsCard.”

Les, Municipal worker with Central Desert Shire, Ti Tree

“I work for the Shire out in the hot sun. I only get about $190 cash and
$190 on my BasicsCard every fortnight. Before the Intervention I used
to get about $1000 for the same work. I’ve got three kids to look after and
the money just doesn’t last. We need proper jobs with proper wages. Everyone
needs to join the union so we can get things happening.”


Working for the BasicsCard – Case studies

Taken from Working for the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory: The impact of the Northern Territory Emergency Response and associated policies on employment conditions in NT Aboriginal communities. A discussion paper prepared by Paddy Gibson Senior Researcher, Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning University of Technology Sydney February 2010

For the purposes of this initial briefing, workersʼ names have been changed for purposes of anonymity.

Case Study 1: Garbage Collector at Ampilatwatja

Alfred works in a remote Aboriginal community collecting garbage on the new CDEP scheme While the scheme is supposed to limit work hours to 16 hours over four days (Monday – Thursday), he says “I often work more than four hours a day and work Fridays too”.

He began his employment relationship after his name was posted, along with about 30 others, on a notice at the local store. It said, “Centrelink paid workers must report for work. You must work through your Centrelink payments or you will be penalised. You need to start work now!” It gave instructions to see the local shire manager.

Every morning Alfred reports to the Shire manager and is given instructions on the dayʼs work. This has involved some work painting local buildings. But mostly, Alfred has worked on rubbish collection.

Alfred has never been issued with any clothing or safety equipment or given formal training, though he has been shown “a good way” to manually lift garbage bins.

When collecting rubbish, Alfred works unsupervised. He drives the flatbed truck owned by the shire, even though he has no driverʼs license.

He works with a partner, also a young man on the new CDEP scheme, to manually pull garbage bins up onto the flatbed truck.

In response to letters of complaint, Minister Jenny Macklin promised the local community a proper rubbish truck more than seven months ago but nothing has arrived.

After collecting a number of bins from the community, they drive to the local rubbish dump, manually take the bins off the tray and upended the rubbish into a deep ditch.

Alfred did not sign a contract until the Shire CDEP manager visited, more than a month after he had started work. At the time of interview, Alfred had never filled in a timesheet. He had never been given a pay slip. The only way he knew he had been paid was by calling the bank and the Income Management hotline. He had lost his BasicsCard and so had no way of accessing the money accruing in his Income Management account. He also had no key card and so had no way to access his bank account until the next trip into Alice Springs, more than 300 kms away.

Information for the following case studies has been provided by Nadine Williams, former President of the AEU (NT).

Case Study 2: School Bus Drivers Atitjere

Lena is 36 years old and lives at an outstation community near Harts Range (Atitjere). She lives with her husband, three children and extended family.

Lena is an artist and recently began working as the school bus driver for outstation children, so they can regularly attend Harts Range School from two small communities near Atitjere.

Lena was offered this job as she had a license. She had been asking at the Shire office to be employed, wanting to earn more than her Centrelink entitlements. When she was asked to take the job by the Shire Services Manager she thought she would get paid wages.

The hours Lena works are “split shift”. She is required to keep the bus at her home overnight and leave at 7am, picking up 10 school aged children at her community and drive 25 km to the larger outstation Irrerlirre to pick up 15 children to travel a further 30 km to Atitjere; then return at 3pm to drop children home him the evening, finishing work about 5pm Monday to Friday.

Lenaʼs husband Kenneth also works on CDEP, sharing the driving job. This was agreed although he did not have a current license. 
 The school is very happy about this arrangement, but has no direct say in the employment of Lena and Kenneth as the Shire office is responsible for all CDEP positions.

Having worked for 7 weeks of the last term of 2009, Lena realised she was only receiving her usual payments from Centrelink and her Basics Card income. Over this time, Kenneth gained an MR license to drive the Shire coaster bus, but has also only received Centrelink.

Time sheets have to be filled in and “pay” is docked if either or both do not get to Atitjere on time for school. The bus is not roadworthy and remains unregistered. Kenneth has done maintenance on the engine, but cannot fix the main problems as the Shire has allegedly no money for the bus.

No training or support is available for CDEP workers at this community, except a short term literacy and numeracy course which Lena voluntarily attended in November 2009.

No clothing, cleaning equipment or OH&S have been made available.

Written submissions about this case have been written to the Shire and the NT Education Department. But the bus is still driven by two responsible adults who are not paid a wage, have no holiday pay, no superannuation, no security and no support.

Case Study 3: Arts Centre Coordinator at Atitjere

Rosie is a 45 year old single parent who has been the coordinator of a successful Arts Centre for over 3 years at Atitjere.

Rosie has six children and is a foster parent to four other children. She lives in a tin shed with no amenities and goes to work for only her Centrelink benefits, which are 50% Income Managed. Roseie has been painting for over 10 years and is selling her work from the Art Centre, where she works for 40 hours per week.

Before the Shires were established in 2008, she had access to the Womenʼs Bus for trips to Alice Springs, to get paints and supplies and to go to exhibitions. This was funded by the Community Government Council.

The Art Centre was in the process of completing a business plan, to get proper funding for her role as Coordinator and for several positions for part time workers to be trained in IT and management systems. Despite the Business Plan being completed with assistance from an Alice Springs company, and a member of the Shire Managerʼs family, no positions have been created.

Exhibitions of Rosieʼs and other womenʼs work were set up without permission at a major art festival in Alice Springs in 2009. No transport was available for them to even attend the opening and there was no consultation about pricing.

Rosie continues to work – signing her time sheet for 40 hours – that goes to the Shire CDEP Supervisor every week.

After repeated requests she eventually saw her pay slip in December 2009, which does not describe her position as Coordinator – it just says CDEP.

Rosie is responsible for incoming stock management, computer records and portfolios for all 40 artists registered in the area, supplying outstation artists with canvas and materials, display and sales, and record keeping, cleaning and upkeep of the building and garden area. She has learned with help from friends how to use the computer and scanner to keep digital records and email.

Rosie expresses deep sadness about the loss of the bus to travel to Alice Springs and the loss of control over the Art Centre which she loves. She is also upset that she and other women who work very hard see no change to their income or prospects for earning real wages.