SIHIP CDEP campaign

Support the Petition running December 2010 – May 15 2011:

To the Honourable President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled:

We the undersigned are citizens concerned with the exploitation of Aboriginal workers taking place under the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), which was reformed by the Labor government in 2009.

Aboriginal workers in the Northern Territory are working at least 16 hours a week under the scheme, but only being paid their Newstart allowance through Centrelink. In many cases, workers are subject to Income Management and have 50 per cent of these payments ‘quarantined’ onto a BasicsCard.

We are particularly concerned by the use of CDEP labour on the federal government’s $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP). Local Aboriginal workers on CDEP have been working for substandard CDEP wages, or for the BasicsCard, alongside fully paid construction workers from outside the community.

This is a grave affront to the principle of equal pay for equal work.

Your petitioners request that the Senate take action to ensure:

i) The use of CDEP labour on SIHIP sites ceases immediately and all CDEP workers involved in SIHIP are offered fully waged jobs.

ii) iii) iv) by a large-scale community based employment program that remunerates Aboriginal workers at appropriate award rates.

A full investigation takes place into the use of CDEP labour as part of SIHIP. CDEP workers engaged by SIHIP to date are back paid for all work done at the appropriate award rate. CDEP arrangements that put people to work for Centrelink entitlements are abolished and replaced

Sign the petition online here:

Background information:

2 Articles from Crikey:

“Workers say they’re being ripped off under indigenous housing program”:

Paddy Gibson, senior researcher, Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, UTS, writes:

Aboriginal people say they are working for the BasicsCard on the federal Government’s $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) in Northern Territory communities.

The scheme has been a serious cash cow for bureaucrats and contractors. The first two years of the program failed to deliver a single house.

A Tasmanian couple overseeing SIHIP as part of their role with NT Housing told The Australian in August 2009 that they had each been given new Toyotas and paid $71,000 per year “to do absolutely nothing”.

But Sheldon Stuart from the community of Amoonguna, about 20km south of Alice Springs, says that he was doing repairs and maintenance as part of SIHIP and only being paid his Newstart allowance through Centrelink. Fifty per cent of this was quarantined onto a BasicsCard, which can only be used to buy certain items at government-approved stores.

Sheldon told Crikey: “We started around June. We patched all the walls, patched the ceiling, painted the walls, painted the floor. We did everything in there.

“We’d start at eight and knock off at about 3.30. We did that for three-four months.

“When we first got paid, there was $300 on top of our Centrelink every fortnight. Then the top-up just started going down and down and then went out completely. It was just working for the dole. I was on the BasicsCard too. It was a complete rip off.”

An income managed Newstart allowance pays about $115 cash per week and $115 on the BasicsCard.

Sheldon’s repairs and maintenance work was being completed under the direction of New Futures Alliance (NFA), a consortium comprised of major corporate builders including Leighton Contractors and Broad Construction. NFA were supposed to pay the workers top-up for any hours they completed above the 16 per week required by CDEP.

For the weeks Sheldon was receiving $300 top-up from NFA, his pay works out to $8.15 cash an hour. For the weeks he received no top-up, the hourly cash rate was $3.50.

Workers at Amoonguna were engaged by SIHIP as participants in the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP), which is administered by Community Enterprises Australia (CEA) in the Macdonnell region.

The federal government claims that 30% of workers on the SIHIP program are indigenous. It is unclear whether this includes CDEP participants. But workers at Amoonguna featured on the front page of a July SIHIP newsletter boasting about Aboriginal workforce participation.

Under reforms to CDEP introduced by the Labor Government, workers who first entered the program after July 2009, or have re-engaged after absence, are paid through Centrelink.

Many of these workers were previously paid through CDEPs run by local Aboriginal community councils, which have been abolished alongside the intervention. Activity requirements for Centrelink are now compelling them to do similar work for drastically reduced wages.

Scott McConnell is the general manager of Ingkerreke, an Aboriginal-run outstation resource organisation, which contracts for SIHIP through its commercial arm.

Scott explained how CDEP workers were used by SIHIP at Santa Teresa, another community in the Macdonnell region: “When we started working at Santa Teresa, we were asked to attend some workforce development meetings with New Future Alliance and Community Enterprises Australia (CEA).

“We immediately became very uncomfortable. They wanted us to pay people who were CDEP participants. To pay them top up. So someone would be working on a site with a CDEP participant on some CDEP rate and then, once they’d done their 16 hours through that little arrangement, then they’d work for Ingkerreke on a top up arrangement.

“We disengaged and said this is an absolute no go for us. But they went ahead and did it anyway. These guys ended up working on the sites for CDEP, then any extra hours were paid directly by New Future Alliance.

“Because it was a flexible arrangement and they weren’t getting paid properly, some people were treating it like it wasn’t a job. Others were really putting in and trying to learn. Some would work for three days, be promised top-up and then find out that they weren’t getting any — they were just getting the dole anyway.

“Working in SIHIP, Ingkerreke has to send our contracts and all of our information about how we remunerate staff to the government and get all the formal accreditation. Yet CEA have got these guys working on sites alongside us, doing the same work but getting paid next to nothing.

“If they’d done it properly, there could have been five or six people at Santa Teresa working for Ingkerreke for at least $25 an hour, up to 10 hours a day, 13 days in a fortnight. Our organisation is very concerned about this practice. There’s no way that you would have a white fella getting paid on a BasicsCard working on a $672 million construction program.”

Aboriginal communities have been dispossessed of millions of dollars worth of land and housing through the intervention and SIHIP. Using the intervention’s compulsory five-year lease over Aboriginal township land, all housing stock was transferred from local Aboriginal housing committees to the NT Department of Housing.

Crikey has been told that at Santa Teresa, rents of $180 per week are expected on houses for which residents paid $40 for before the SIHIP renovations. Despite the common occurrence of 15-20 people per house across all NT communities, only 16 of the 73 “prescribed communities” will receive any new housing under SIHIP. And only if they sign a 40-year lease with the Government.

On October 20, Gurindji workers went on strike in the communities of Kalkaringi and Dagaragu over the unemployment, exploitative working conditions and loss of services and land rights through the intervention and cuts to CDEP.

On October 29, a National Day of Action was held demanding “Stop the Intervention — Jobs with Justicefor Aboriginal workers”, supported by a broad range of organisations including Unions NT, Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, the Tangentyere Council and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission.

On Thursday, a high-level trade union delegation including ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence will begin a tour of the NT to investigate the impact of the intervention.


“Indigenous workers are getting screwed under the SIHIP program”

by Carl Russelhuber, Employment Services Manager, CatholicCare NT

As a federally funded Job Services Australia provider we are contracted to deliver services to job seekers in Amoonguna and Santa Teresa, the communities your Friday article (“Workers say they’re being ripped off under indigenous housing program”, Item 5) relates to, and the majority of the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) participants are linked to us.

I would like to begin by saying that I knew this was going to be a rort right from the start.

Two of my employment consultants have received a number of complaints from CDEP participants about being underpaid for working on Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) projects using CDEP as a vehicle. We have had to tell these job seekers that our only affiliation with CEA is as a Job Services Provider and that we have nothing to do with CDEP participants wages.

There are another two communities we service —  Titjikala and Finke — who will also have SIHIP work done using CDEP as a vehicle. SIHIP work using CDEP workers and some coerced from one of my work experience programs has just begun in Titjikala and again CEA is the CDEP provider.

It has always been my belief that when the federal government rolled out SIHIP that it was supposed to provide actual paid work at the proper industry award pay rates and employ local indigenous people in each of the affected communities. It was also a requirement that these workers receive an accredited qualification.

Right from the beginning when I tried to find out who the actual employer was in Santa Teresa where SIHIP began I was told by CEA that “Ingerreke” were going to be the lead contractor and that they would employ and pay the wages for local indigenous workers at the proper award rates. Later on this changed to being told that CEA would be the employer paying the wages and they (CEA) would be reimbursed by invoicing the contractor. What difference if any to what was invoiced and to what workers actually got paid is another question!

The reason that I needed the correct information was that to be entitled to employment outcomes as a Job Services Australia Provider and to comply with our contract with the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations (DEEWR) we needed to correctly record details into the system including correct start dates for each job seeker.

We also needed this information because the details of who the CDEP job seekers were working for and the days of work that they were working (etc.) also had to be recorded in each person’s Employment Pathway Plan. CEA was well aware of DEEWR’s requirements that these details had to be recorded in each job seeker’s Employment Pathway Plans.

The correct information was never forthcoming. We did not know who they were working for, what days they were working, how much they were getting paid, and what training was going to be done as this was also required to be recorded in their Employment Pathway Plans.

The end result was that we achieved no placements or outcomes for Santa Teresa or Amoonguna and the same will apply for Titjikala and Finke. The end result of this is that job seekers have been underpaid and CatholicCare NT has lost money for placement and outcome fees.

Before the SIHIP program commenced in these communities I attended a number of meetings with CEA and NFA at the CEA office together with other stakeholders to talk about the SIHIP program, but it did not take me long to figure out that this was going to be a rort which would benefit CEA and NFA and no-one else, and that the majority of CDEP participants who were also our job seekers were going to be screwed. I stopped going and declined each further invitation to attend.

As this concerned our job seekers I also voiced my concerns with the Department Of Education and Employment Relations to no avail.

There are quite a number of other communities whose CDEP programs are run by CEA that we do not service who, if SIHIP is going to them, will be in the same position as the communities named in your article.


One response to “SIHIP CDEP campaign

  1. Catheryn Thompson

    I am horrified to read that local aboriginal workers are working for substandard CDEP wages, or for the BasicsCard, alongside fully paid construction workers from outside communities. It is outrageous that this is happening in 2010. Aboriginal people on communities are entitled to fully waged jobs under CDEP, otherwise it is exploitation, and the government is abusing their involvement in these projects.

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