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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy

Date: September 2005


As the original owners and occupiers of the continent, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples developed, nurtured, and sustained unique, social and economic patterns of life and community.

The HSU accepts as fundamental, that justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and reconciliation, will be ensured only on the basis of the following principles:

(i) Recognition of rights unique to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as our First Peoples; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are the First Nations peoples of Australia, and as such, have a distinct and inalienable set of rights. The right to self-determination is the paramount of these.

(ii) Acceptance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' right to self-determination;

(iii)Acceptance of the central importance of the right to negotiate;

To further the on-going process of reconciliation the HSU endorses the May 2000 'Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation' and would support a call by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders for a treaty setting out the issues, structure, resources and process of negotiation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and governments

1. Industrial rights in employment

The HSU will campaign for award and agreement coverage where a substantial proportion of employees are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The HSU commits to social justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through advocacy in relation to health and education.

2. Funding

This policy recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers face a number of impediments which prevent them from receiving their proper entitlements. These impediments include:

(a) Inadequate funding to organisations to allow the payment of appropriate wages and the provision of appropriate conditions of employment such as long service leave, training and study leave and ceremonial leave;

(b) Inadequate human resource management skills within communities, many of which are managed by voluntary committees of management, to properly apply Awards and agreements.

In recognition of these impediments, the HSU commits to lobby for policy and financial commitment from State, Territory and Federal governments and other relevant bodies to support:

(a) The development and implementation of a training programme for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community managers including committee members, taking into account the diversity existing within and between those communities;

(b) Supplementation of wage increases arising from the application of awards or agreements (similar to the movement to award wages programme); and

(c) HSU is committed to assisting Indigenous Community Controlled Health and Medical Services in gaining adequate funding and resources from State and Federal Governments.

3. Social Justice

The HSU acknowledges the extent to which institutionalised racism within workplaces has deterred Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers from embracing union culture.

The HSU will work to improve its relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by:

(a) Working towards the redress of the economic and social disadvantage faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly in relation to employment;

(b) Strengthening representative structures within the HSU to encourage participation by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers and;

(c) Providing support and assistance to branches in order to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation within the union generally.

3.2 Stolen Wages

The HSU acknowledges Stolen wages are not a welfare issue, they are an industrial issue. The HSU believes that the Queensland Government and other Governments with similar histories should negotiate with Indigenous representatives about this issue.

3.3 Deaths in Custody

HSU seeks to ensure that issues raised in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Report need to be reinforced.

4. Indigenous health workforce

The HSU endorses the aim of the "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce National Strategic Framework" May 2002 and makes a commitment to achieving the objectives outlined on page 3 of the document through consultation and consolidation within awards and conditions that relate to A&TSI peoples.

4.1 Safety of Health Workers

The HSU acknowledges that health worker safety is an important issue in Aboriginal Communities where alcohol and drug abuse is widespread.

Having adequate resources to handle patients and community members with alcohol and drug abuse problems as well as mental illness is an Occupational Health and safety issue.

The HSU should actively seek to ensure that health workers working under these conditions should be provided with adequate resources to cope with the threat of physical violence towards them or other members of the community.

Making sure that this issue is adequately resourced will prevent turnover of skilled health workers, benefiting workers and the community.

5. Superannuation

HSU acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples have a substantially different mortality rate than other Australian ethnic groups and that the Superannuation system should be adjusted to compensate for that. Many Indigenous peoples do not have a long enough average lifespan to benefit from their superannuation payments.

6. Branch facilitation and National Responsibility to indigenous People

6.1 Organising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workers

Consistent with the need to develop a partnership between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers and the union, the HSU within its recruitment policy and programme, commits to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural protocols and community aspirations are incorporated in all initiatives related to the recruitment and organisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers.

This will be pursued through the establishment of appropriate dialogue with representative and cultural organisations, and with existing Aboriginal and Torres Islander union members and networks.

6.2 Capacity building through the Health Services Union

The HSU supports building the capacity of health services and communities, strengthening health services and increasing community expertise to respond to health needs and take responsibility for health outcomes.

This includes effectively equipping staff with appropriate cultural knowledge and clinical expertise, building physical, human and intellectual infrastructure, fostering leadership, governance and financial management.

The HSU will specifically target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers for participation in Organising Works, the Anna Stewart Program and other trade union training activities.

Indigenous members should be encouraged to participate in HSU training programs and be targeted for participation in all union activities to ensure that there is adequate representation of Indigenous Health Workers and the issues that they face.

6.3 Representation

The HSU will maintain a representative on the ACTU Indigenous committee and seek to be represented on any committee that seeks to advance the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples.

7. Conclusion

The HSU is committed to supporting:

(a) The negotiation of a Treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples facilitating self determination and reconciliation with the federal government;

(b) Improving employment outcomes by bargaining for increased employment opportunities;

(c) Targeting and organising Indigenous workers in key industries and growth sectors;

(d) Ensuring provision of industrial protection for Indigenous workers through both awards and enterprise bargaining agreements;

(e) The HSU will address National Aboriginal Health Strategy recommendations with added emphasis on access to health care facilities, involvement of Indigenous Communities in the design of facilities, as well as seeking to review hospital protocols and improve on appropriateness of services fostering better understanding of Aboriginal and Islander Community Controlled Health Services;

(f) The HSU will lobby to increase the funding from State and Federal governments, to facilitate adequate funding for aboriginal community controlled health services.

The HSU provides a strong commitment to this policy and to the ongoing improvement of health care and social services in Indigenous communities.

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