Today in the Northern Territory along the Roper Bar road on the Aboriginal Alawa people owned Station of Warrigundu you will find no activity. The part time Aboriginal station staff was sat down in early December last year by the lease holders of the property, the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC). While sitting down for two or three months over a wet period is nothing new in the top end, the pay systems the Aboriginal boys operate under within the ILC is. The permanent ILC staff operates under a work agreement that gives them a 37 hour week, holiday pay, overtime rates and general benefits we all have come to enjoy in this country. The Aboriginal station workers are employed and operate under a different system that the ILC calls National Indigenous Pastoral Enterprise (NIPE). NIPE has the Aboriginal boys working a minimum 50 hour week before any benefits come their way. The boys can build up Time Off In Lieu (TOIL) up to 5 days and only more with the Managers permission, but they cannot bank more than 20 days. When you are being sat down for a wet period of 60 – 90 days it is hard to keep your family feed and the problems this causes affect the entire Aboriginal Community.
In February 2012, several Aboriginal Trainee stockmen from Minyerri signed on with the ILC to be taught a range of skills needed for working on Stations in the top end. The work contract they signed is for 12 months of real on the job training including four weeks of leave and the promise of “real jobs” at the end of their Traineeship.
These ILC Aboriginal Trainees preformed their duties to a good quality, some exceptionally well.
During the year the Trainees and I were kept busy mustering and branding the 15000 head of ILC station cattle on Warrigundu.
Unfortunately for these young fit men with dreams once they are not needed, or the Certificate 2 in Agriculture is finished, so are they. Today these Trainees are sitting in Minyerri with their families and have been doing so since 10th December last year, some a lot longer. The bulk of the trainees have had one or two weeks work in the last five months as two of the boys got to go and look at ILC operations in West Australia and because of the lack of skilled Trainee Supervisor cattlemen willing to work for the ILC, the other boys had to be sat down.
I have visited the Trainees several times this year and their family life, sanity, and belief in their futures are all vanishing fast. One girl who is a partner to a Trainee has been treated for thinking of suicide as she feels let down. These young Aboriginal men now cannot get Centrelink benefits as they need a separation form signed by the ILC to release them, but the ILC don’t release them as eventually, they will pick them up and a graduation ceremony will take place, then they will tell us and their ILC Directors what a good job ILC Training has done. The young Aboriginal boys could take action against the ILC through Industrial Relations, but they know the chances of getting employment on their own property leased by the ILC after that would be nil. One boy beat the system and has found employment with CDEP as his children were starving and he had to find work and money.
The parents and grandparents, wives and girlfriends are all looking after these virtually unemployed men caught in a catch 22. All the ILC have told them is that they have generator problems at the station and that is why they cannot be re employed. Even if this is true, apart from the fact three months is amply time to fix the problem, the Trainees live 6 kilometres from the Station and could be picked up and dropped off daily.
It is fast looking like the ILC Training Department is taking advantage of the less fortunate Aboriginal men from Minyerri. The forms of injustice put upon these young Trainees are so that in the long run the ILC Training Department can keep statistics looking good and costs down at the expense of the Aboriginal students and their families way of life.
With no large amount of employability outcomes since the inception of the ILC training Aboriginal men into station work, it is hard to see why they keep getting large amounts of money from Government to keep this Training ongoing. I doubt there would be one Aboriginal Station Manager, Overseer or Head Stockmen in employment in the country that the ILC trained and got there on their own. Where are the hundreds of ILC Certificate 2 and 3 qualified Aboriginal men now? It is time for ILC to dump the senior people within the Training Department and replace them with true believers that will get these men employed. At the least, by now in a Corporation such as the ILC, all staff in the Training Department and HR should be Aboriginal. After all, it is the Indigenous Land Corporation.
So today, while some staff of the Training Department of the ILC is sitting in Adelaide, others flying around the country, staying in great Hotels and enjoying good food and a beer, Trainees, my young Aboriginal boys in Minyerri, are suffering family stress, hunger, a feel of desperation, and a disbelief in what ILC promised them.
The writer of this article, Mick Estens, declares an impartiality conflict of interest as he has had direct involvement in the matters he has written about. Mr Estens was an ILC employee from January 30, 2012 to January 16, 2013.
ILC rejects misleading Warrigundu claims
The ILC has hit back at misleading claims about its pastoral training program at Warrigundu Station in the Northern Territory.
The ILC says the misleading claims contained in an article, “ILC Keeping Aboriginal Men in the Long Grass” by Mick Estens, was published without any attempt to get the ILC’s side of the story.
Despite presenting the claims as a media story, there was no disclosure by the author that, in fact, he is a former paid employee of the ILC who worked at Warrigundu Station.
Further there had been no attempt to contact the ILC prior to publication to seek responses to the allegations he was making as a former employee.
The ILC has set out below detailed responses to the misleading claims by Mr Estens so people can make their own judgement on these matters in a balanced way.
Allegation 1: Today in the Northern Territory along the Roper Bar Road on the Aboriginal Alawa people owned Station of Warrigundu you will find no activity.
As at 30 May the ILC was employing 17 Indigenous people at Warrigundu: 10 trainees and 7 station hands through its subsidiary National Indigenous Pastoral Enterprises (NIPE).
Allegation 2: The permanent ILC staff operates under a work agreement that gives them a 37 hour week, holiday pay, overtime rates and general benefits we all have come to enjoy in this county. The Aboriginal station workers are employed and operate under a different system that the ILC calls National Indigenous Pastoral Enterprise (NIPE). NIPE has the Aboriginal boys working a minimum 50 hour week before any benefits come their way. The boys can build up Time Off In Lieu (TOIL) up to 5 days and only more with the Managers permission, but they cannot bank more than 20 days.
All employees who are engaged to work within the ILC’s agricultural businesses across Australia are employed by NIPE, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ILC. Employees are paid on a day rate under an Enterprise Agreement (EA) approved by FairWork Australia. The standard day in the EA is from six hours up to 10 hours, and if people work more than 10 hours they accrue that extra time and are then able to take this extra time off as paid time-in-lieu. The 10 hours is not a minimum time, so if people work for at least six hours in a day they receive a full day’s pay.
Indigenous trainees are engaged separately through the ILC’s training to employment program and are employed through a Group Training Organisation (GTO). While the ILC is hosting the trainees during their traineeship, they are employed on terms and conditions as defined by the GTO. Trainees are paid for all hours worked including overtime when required.
Allegation 3: Once they are not needed, or the Certificate 2 in Agriculture is finished, so are they.
Traineeships are full time positions with all trainees employed by a GTO and are underpinned with a job offer on completion of training. Over the past five years, 220 trainees have successfully completed their traineeships and each of them who seeks ongoing employment has been offered a job. 145 trainees have accepted these offers and joined the workforce, 63 with the ILC and 82 with other industry employers.
Allegation 4: The bulk of the trainees have had one or two weeks work in the last five months
ILC response: Incorrect.
The annual station work season finished at Warrigundu on 23 December 2012 at which time the trainees and other station employees commenced annual leave and a planned stand down period until 11th February, a period of seven weeks. A period of stand down of a couple of months over the wet season is standard practice in the northern pastoral industry when access to the property and work sites is limited due to seasonal conditions.
Trainees are prepared for the stand down over the wet season by the GTO from the commencement of their traineeship. Part of the preparation involves planning to utilise annual and other leave accumulated throughout the year. The stand down period was between 3 to 5 weeks depending on the individual’s accumulated leave entitlements.
The six trainees and all other station staff were due to recommence work at Warrigundu on 11th February 2013, but a serious breakdown of the generator power supply prevented work recommencing, as the station was unable to provide electricity for the refrigeration of perishable food during this very hot period – thereby presenting a health and safety risk that had to be taken seriously.
However, in good faith, the ILC authorised the GTO to pay the trainees that had presented for work during the period 18th February to 3rd March 2013 despite the fact that the workplace was still in stand down due to the lack of electricity. Five trainees recommenced work on 4th March 2013. One of the trainees had permanently left the area for personal reasons prior Christmas and has not returned.
The five remaining trainees who are at the station who were working under Mr Estens’ supervision have had their traineeships and host employment arrangements extended to June 30th 2013. This provides the trainees with an opportunity to complete their qualification and secure a job offer. Currently, the trainees are demonstrating commitment to their employment and completing the traineeship.
Allegation 5: As two of the boys got to go and look at ILC operations in West Australia and because of the lack of skilled Trainee Supervisor cattlemen willing to work for the ILC, the other boys had to be sat down.
During October-November 2012, two trainees went to ILC properties in WA with Mr Estens for eight weeks as part of their development to experience broader aspects of the cattle industry and enhance their life skills and independence. The remaining three trainees did not participate in this component of the program as they were not performing to expectations and had attendance issues. Mr Estens was part of the assessment process that determined which trainees were eligible to be sent to WA and which were deemed unsuitable at the time.
The remaining trainees were still being employed at Warrigundu while their colleagues were in WA, but during this time, despite the property manager driving to the community to conduct regular pickups, they failed to present for work. They also failed to contact the station to request transport assistance or to independently organise transport from the community which is located within the property boundary only six kilometres from the cattle station homestead area.
During Mr Estens’ relocation to WA, trainee supervision at Warrigundu was able to be provided by the property manager and his operational staff which consists largely of local Warrigundu people. Many of the station personnel are senior people from Warrigundu, several who have previously graduated from the ILC training program.
Allegation 6: These young Aboriginal men now cannot get Centrelink benefits as they need a separation form signed by the ILC to release them, but the ILC don’t release them.
The ILC hosts the trainees who are employed by a GTO which administers all employment related processes including separation certificates. The GTO advised the ILC that at no point has it been approached for, or declined providing, separation certificates for these trainees.
Allegations 7 and 8: The chances of getting employment on their own property leased by the ILC after that would be nil. No large amount of employability outcomes since the inception of the ILC training Aboriginal men into station work.
ILC response: Incorrect.
Figures below are for the period 2009 to present.
57 Indigenous people have commenced training at Warrigundu.
32 Indigenous people have completed training.
22 Indigenous people have gone into employment.
10 declined or did not require employment offers.
14 did not complete training.
10 in training including 5 of the 6 trainees referred to by Mr. Estens (one departed the area before Christmas due to personal reasons.
Allegation 9: The ILC have generator problems at the station and that is why they cannot be re employed.
The property did experience significant issues providing sustainable electricity generation for a period (approximately three weeks) during February. During this time the inability to provide adequate refrigeration was a workplace, health and safety concern. The generator problem has since been fixed.
Allegation 10: I doubt there would be one Aboriginal Station Manager, Overseer or Head Stockmen in employment in the country that the ILC trained and got there on their own.
ILC response: Incorrect:
The ILC currently employs three Indigenous property managers who operate to high level industry standards – two who have progressed through the ILC employment program to become managers and another who was recruited with previous management experience.
There are 12 other indigenous people employed in the ILC’s agricultural businesses who have developed into senior roles after participating in the ILC employment and training program. Four of these people are currently engaged in the ILC Trainee Management Cadet Program where they are being trained to become station managers for the ILC.