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Aboriginal employment in remote laundry

Working is good for our emotional and physical health. It provides purpose, keeps us on the straight and narrow, helps to build skills, confidence, self-esteem and rewards us financially. There is little doubt having a job is a good thing. All agreed.

Now turn your attention to the Northern Territory where Aboriginal people make up 30% of the population and living in communities is normal for people who choose to live on their country. A key issue in Aboriginal communities however is the lack of jobs. Obviously not all communities are the same, but a good amount are, and the lack of employment opportunities is widely understood to be a major barrier to moving forward.

According to 2016 ABS data 75% of Aboriginal people who live in remote NT communities do not have a job.  Visiting Aboriginal communities brings this statistic to life where most adults are  bored and uninvolved with their community and more broadly Australian society. AIG wants to challenge this.

“At this stage it’s about creating an opportunity for people to be able to work – regardless of the size or nature”.

Steve Smith, AIG CEO

To help you to understand what life is like in the far north of the NT, we can use Barunga Community as an example. A high functioning community of about 300 people east of Katherine on country belonging to the Jawoyn people. Barunga is also the place where AIG is running the Remote Laundries pilot. There is a primary and high school, health centre, community store, council office, radio station, women’s centre, and the aged care centre. It sounds like a lot of places where locals could work on the surface, but when you dig a bit deeper, it’s apparent opportunities for locals to take up key jobs is not as straight forward as that.

Just to name a few; the principal of the school, manager of the store, manager of the health centre, and council are all outsourced; meaning they are not local to Barunga and are employed on contract to live and work there. The teams that work under these managers are made up of a combination of local and outsourced skill and labour. While reasons for this may be complicated, the main reason is capacity. Locals don’t have the training or skills to fill key roles and outsourcing is the easiest option for keeping community services available and functioning. The problem of local unemployment remains unchanged.

AIG wants to include Barunga locals in the workforce in two ways. Firstly, building capacity and work ethic. There are people in community who have never worked despite actively looking for work – there just aren’t any jobs. Training in things like engagement, rostering, turning up on time every day is critical. Secondly, to create jobs; opportunities where people can work.

“We address the gaps by training and implementing a project that is important to the people of Barunga and they are proud of”.

Alexa Gutenberger, AIG Chief Operating Officer

AIG strives to make sure whenever possible local resources are used first. We want to create jobs that locals can fill and be satisfied in the work they do. We want them to get all the good stuff that goes with having meaningful employment.

The pilot laundry opened in February 2019. It has four 10kg heavy duty washing machines and four dryers set in a sea container. The laundry has created five jobs for people from Barunga or neighbouring community Beswick. Freddy, one of the workers has just started his Certificate II in Retail Services. Also key staff employed at the start of the pilot have remained in their job which we interpret as them valuing their job.

“We are really happy with the progress of the laundry and we intend to replicate the service in six other communities to create more jobs for people who want to work. In the long term, we want to measure not only the emotional benefits of working in our laundries but also the economic impact on the community and welfare dependency. We are excited about the future of our laundries in northern NT” says Steve.

More businesses like our Remote Laundries are needed in communities throughout the NT. We need innovative people involved to help create meaningful employment and services in community that people value. Sitting back and criticising Aboriginal people for not working, without anything to help create jobs is not going to cut it in our opinion. AIG wants to get involved and be a part of the solution.