By ERWIN CHLANDA
Companies expecting to win tenders for Territory Government work now will need to have staff that is 30% or 40% Indigenous, according to documents obtained by the Alice Springs News Online.
This rule has been described as unfair and unrealistic by two local businessmen, including outspoken councillor Steve Brown, who says this is “barefacedly racist in its nature”.
He says no government has been able to reach quotas of that magnitude in their own public service workforces.
Cr Brown does not mention the Town Council’s own aspiration of 20% which they consistently fail to reach. Recent figures have been well below the 15% mark, not topping it even when boosted by the use of Corrections work teams.
Cr Brown and a second businessman who does not wish to be named say there are not enough Indigenous people who are skilled, and those who are will be in big demand, enabling them to make unrealistic wage demands.
And the businessmen say some Indigenous people can obtain certificates from training providers without having gained the appropriate skills, because the providers get paid from the Federal government for trainees completing courses.
Cr Brown, who is an electrician and builder, also says it seems under the new regime, Indigenous NGOs will have a windfall: “The government seems to have the perception that a company or NGO with an Aboriginal name necessarily employs more Aboriginal people than other firms. Although this is not necessarily true, it will push work their way.
“This will push non-Aboriginal people out of work. The government spending cake is of a finite size. As a result we will see Redfern Aborigines moving in and long-time non-Aboriginal workers – some of them born and bred – moving out of Alice Springs.
“It is an appalling apartheid style policy, creating an even deeper division in an already divided community,” says Cr Brown.
The News understands that the requirements are applied at varying percentages by different departments. The two examples we have seen stipulate at least 30% (Department of Arts) and 40% (Department of Housing), respectively. We have asked the government for a statement and we have been promised one for this morning.
The second businessman provided a statement to the News with the request of not being named. He writes: “By creating an increased value and demand on indigenous workers, the normal market rules are distorted.
“No longer is an employee (or a company) successful based upon the merits of value, quality, work ethic and so on – the ideal employee is Indigenous.
“The facts are that indigenous employees make up a very small part of the labour force and an even smaller part of the trade qualified labour force.
“Whilst there are a reasonable number of indigenous staff given Cert 2 in construction, for example, these qualifications themselves are often provided to [inadequately qualified] indigenous staff as the training organisations or employment group were rewarded for ‘ticking the box’ and passing out certificates.”
“NT government tenders are now requiring the tenderer to state how [this percentage] will be achieved, what indigenous organisations will be used, and so on.
“Failure to provide a plan will negatively affect the tender. This represents the stick of the policy. Companies awarded the project are then required to keep track of indigenous hours worked.
“The Government is then able to provide funds out of a provisional sum back to the contract winner based upon the indigenous hours worked. This represents the carrot of the policy.
“The end result is an incentivized industry that is not judged by quality, productivity, efficiency – but simply by race. A recent Request for Tender Document used the word “indigenous” no less than 55 times,” says the businessman.
“By creating such demand on a relatively small part of the labour force, it becomes an employee market for indigenous staff. This drives up their wages.
“This of course leads other, non-indigenous staff, who generally have a higher level of skill and qualification, to either feel hard done by or for them to also receive a higher rate of pay. This is not a hypothetical. This is a real event that is happening.
“This upward price pressure does not just apply to construction companies, it is across the industry. From electrical, plumbing, glazing, concreting, block laying … the list goes on.
“The end result is that small to medium sized builders are competing against government subsidised, seemingly protected, companies, companies that seem to be able to endlessly perform works at prices way below the rest of the market.
“The large size companies will be OK. They will be able to create partnerships and due to not having to compete with the established indigenous construction companies in large contracts, they will simple be able to pass any cost on back to the client.
“As the government, with all its resources, is [clearly] unable to educate, train and instil work ethic amongst the general NT Indigenous population, it has now just pushed that function on to the private sector.”