Tuesday, 2 August 2016
Australian unions outraged at abuse of youth prisoners
SECRETARY of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Dave Oliver, has written a letter speaking out about the abuse of youth in a detention facility in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Horrendous footage emerged on state television last week of youth being ‘spit-hooded’, stripped naked, forced into restraining positions for long periods of time and attacked by tear gas at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. According to the UN, the treatment of youth at Don Dale could amount to torture.
96% of the youth in Northern Territory detention centres are from Australia’s indigenous inhabitants, the Aboriginal people. Protesters in Australia have linked the treatment of Aboriginal youth in Australian facilities to the treatment of black youth and workers in America, which sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
Oliver’s letter reads as below.
‘Dear Prime Minister,
‘The Australian Union movement welcomes today’s announcement of a Royal Commission into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory. However, having considered the proposed terms of reference, it is clear that more must be done in order to ensure that this is not another redundant report that fails to bring about lasting change.
‘The confinement of the proposed Royal Commission to only the Northern Territory, the involvement of the Territory Government and the development of the Terms of Reference within Cabinet with the exclusion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and its leaders is unacceptable.
‘The Royal Commission must be guided by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community with a national remit. A Commission should also consider the recommendations from a number of existing reports on this issue which have been ignored by Territory and federal governments.
‘On these points, the union movement is proud to echo the demands of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and Shane Duffy, the chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and co-chair of Change the Record.
‘We have seen Royal Commissions including the Aboriginal Deaths In Custody (1991) Commission, and reports such as Little Children are Scared (2007), fail to change the way the white Australian justice deals with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Previous reports have served to paper over what has now been revealed to the world as a national disgrace.
‘This Royal Commission must do more to end, and not simply conceal, the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in detention. The proposed Royal Commission must be different from what has come before, and cannot be the only action taken to address the systemic issue of mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and children in custody.
‘In relation to the magnitude and appalling nature of the incident at Don Dale, it is also right for the Federal Government to consider the position of the Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister and the entire Northern Territory Government. These elected officials have failed in their duty of care to their constituents.
‘It is right to say that the country has completely lost its trust in these representatives.
‘In scoping a Royal Commission, there must also be structural change to ensure greater levels of consultation is prioritised with the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander community.
‘This should include the government keeping its election commitment to establish an Independent Custodial Inspector, a measure that has been called for by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services repeatedly, to no avail. Finally, this Royal Commission must lead to decisive action to address the myriad other crises in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
‘Youth suicide is at crisis levels, imprisonment rates continue to climb and community services have been systematically defunded. Policies such as the Community Development Programme, whose discriminatory nature harks back to even darker periods of race relations in this country, must be addressed. I call on you to demonstrate the intention to govern for all Australians by taking the radical but necessary steps to address the issues exposed this week, and the myriad other crises that remain hidden.
‘Secretary, Australian Council of Trade Unions’
Australian workers and indigenous people have been remembering a historic victory for Aboriginal people, the struggle for which took place half a century ago. Fifty years after Aboriginal workers walked out of their jobs in protest at their conditions and the theft of their land, a celebration will be held to commemorate this historic triumph for the land rights movement.
Members of the Australian Council of Trade Unions will travel to Darwin to join community elders for the ceremony, with speeches, song and traditional dancing in the community of Daguragu.
The anniversary commemorates the long campaign of Vincent Lingiari, who in 1966 led about 200 Aboriginal stockmen and their families in the great Walk-Off from Wave Hill Station to protest against brutal working conditions and battle the pastoralists taking Aboriginal land.
After years of struggle the Gurindji people won through, and on August 16, 1975, then Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam poured soil into the hands of Vincent Lingiari to mark the return of more than 3,000 square kilometres of the Wave Hill land to his people.
‘I want to promise you this act of restitution we perform today will not stand alone,’ he said. ‘Your fight was not for yourselves alone, and we are determined that Aboriginal Australians everywhere will be helped by it.’
Kara Keys, Indigenous Officer with the ACTU, says the Wave Hill victory was a proud moment. The anniversary provides an opportunity to remember the great advances that have been hard won by those involved in the land rights movement, and the continuing fight for equality before the law and in the workplace for indigenous people,’ Keys told the website Working Life.
‘The ACTU executive is relocating to Darwin in August as a demonstration of the union movement’s commitment to fighting for equality for all people, and in recognition of the pivotal role the Wave Hill Walk Off played in the ongoing fight for Indigenous equality in Australia.’
Keys warned that many of the advances made in the wake of Gough Whitlam’s symbolic gesture are being lost because of the narrow-minded and unfair policies of the current Coalition Government. Many of the challenges faced by the workers of Wave Hill are still faced by indigenous workers today,’ she says.
‘Discriminatory policies such as the Community Development Programme echo the policies that oppressed those who walked off Wave Hill, and the union movement stands fully committed to the ultimate goal of complete equality for all workers in this country.’
Linda Burney, newly elected as the first Aboriginal woman in the House of Representatives, agrees. There’s an awful paternalism creeping back and a regression in the way Aboriginal affairs are administered,’ she said. But she is not giving up, and recalls the way Aboriginal and social justice leaders celebrated in 1974, when national songwriter Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody released the song From Little Things Big Things Grow to mark the Gurindji people’s victory for land rights.
‘The stars were in line – the strike coincided with the beginnings of a concerted Aboriginal rights movement,’ says Burney. That old man and his mob and all their supporters were main actors in a renaissance in Aboriginal self-determination, pride and identity.’
Burney will now be bringing the fight for equality to the national political stage, with constitutional reform to recognise indigenous rights at the top of the agenda. Treaty and recognition are not mutually exclusive and suggesting otherwise is simply untrue,’ she says. ‘I think we can do both.’
Members of the National Union of Workers have won a big victory by forcing Australia’s largest horticultural producer to recognise their union and come to the negotiating table. One union organiser said that the workers had ‘made history’ with their action.
The agriculture and horticulture industries are notorious for being rife with worker exploitation, illegal underpayment and poor working conditions. To make things worse, employers are forced by their buyers, the big supermarkets, to drive down costs – read: workers’ wages.
Workers on student and seasonal visas are hired to do the work, with recent investigations into ‘black jobs’ revealing that these foreign workers often take home between A$10-13 an hour, far beneath the minimum wage.
In the past, less than two per cent of this workforce was unionised; however, workers for farming giant Costa Group, at the company’s tomato-growing site at Guyra in northern New South Wales, have bucked this trend. Conditions at Guyra are grim, workers have said, with workers fainting there whilst working in recent years.
‘In the summer the heat is just extreme,’ one worker said, adding that shade cloths are now not used in the hottest part of the day in the glasshouses. The other big thing I want from them is to respect their workers,’ the worker said about the other grievances of the employees. ‘One (member of the) management is pretty abusive when they talk to staff; it makes a lot of staff angry.’
Workers there are paid the minimum wage of A$17.70 an hour, with the week’s overall pay adding up to barely A$600 each week. It’s very hard for people who are out here. It’s a really poor wage.’
Piece rates at other sites operated by Costa mean that workers may earn even less, under the legal minimum, and there is no overtime rate of pay. Matt Toner of the National Union of Workers (NUW) said that ‘It’s probably the worst award in the country. It’s making workers scrape by on the bones of their arses.’
The NUW had no members amongst Costa’s workers at Guyra just a year ago, but managed to collect the signatures of 200 workers at the site, which is needed under Australian law to bring the employers to the bargaining table. Costa initially disputed the signatures on the petition, but in the end was forced to accept.
However, tensions are still high between the employer and the workers, with reports last week that the company was attempting to block union access to the workers. The fight against unscrupulous employers – read capitalists – still has a long way to go in Australia, as recent scandals in UK businesses Sports Direct and BHS among others, show that it has to on the other side of the world also.
Less than four days after appointing former Northern Territory (NT) chief justice Brian Martin to head a royal commission into the sadistic abuse of boys inside the NT’s juvenile detention centres, the Liberal-National Coalition government was forced to replace him yesterday: here.
Last month, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) released previously suppressed CCTV footage documenting the aggressive response of guards and police officers to a disturbance at the Northern Territory’s Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre last November. The video shows Territory Response Group (TRG) police, dressed in military fatigues, aiming assault rifles at unarmed youth detainees as they surrendered: here.