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You can weed out basic human rights violations without weeding out the right of poor countries to compete on the basis of their lower wages. There is mounting evidence that the rising tide of rapid development is not lifting all boats, especially in China and Indonesia, the first and fourth most populous countries on Earth. Rapid inflation and a wave of labor unrest has swept over both countries in the last year as the promise of a better life from working in industry proved false for millions of uprooted agricultural workers. Both countries are marked by a widening gap between rich and poor.
While a growing but still narrow band of middle-class consumers has emerged in China and Indonesia, its presence has blinded many observers to the wretched living and working conditions prevailing among millions of newly industrialized workers. So far there's not much workers can do to improve their situations.
Beijing and Jakarta have suppressed independent trade union activity. Union leaders have been arrested and jailed and their organizations banned. Their aging dictatorships-one communist and headed by year-old Deng Xiaoping, the other right-wing authoritarian and headed by year-old President Suharto-know an active trade union movement will pose the most serious political threat to the legitimacy of their regimes.
They also fear that the magic elixir of foreign investment will dry up if they allow wages and working conditions to rise above rock-bottom levels. They are using their vast pools of underemployed rural labor to engage in what one labor activist called "a race to the bottom.
Now lawyers are examining a class action on West Australian Aboriginal stolen wages. Retail Food and drink Politics. Pearl Gordon, who worked from the age of ten on pastoral stations, was also rejected for any stolen wages payout. The government might think we're mad but we'd like to look at business for ourselves. Aboriginal workers on pastoral stations often weren't paid at all. Last spring, President Clinton made a half-hearted appeal to put worker rights on the agenda of the World Trade Organization that will be created by the new GATT accord.
An estimated 30 percent of Indonesia's 83 million workers percent of whom are between the ages of 15 and are underemployed. In China, an estimated 60 million to million peasants, lured by the promise of factory jobs, have crammed into the special economic zones of Guangdong Canton province near Hong Kong and along the eastern seaboard. Foreigners have set up , joint ventures and independent enterprises since China began liberalizing its economy in Just in the Pearl River Delta that separates Hong Kong from Guangzhou, there are 32, joint ventures employing nearly 9 million workers.
Ninety percent of the workers are women ages 16 to The Hong Kong-based Christian Industrial Committee estimates that 9 of every 10 joint ventures violate Chinese labor laws. The violations range from paying less than minimum wage to gross violations of safety standards.
Dozens of factory fires, explosions and industrial accidents have killed thousands of workers in the last several years. Vast disparities of wealth are readily apparent in Jakarta, a teeming capital of 8 million to 10 million people no one is exactly sure.
The city boasts a skyline of modern high-rises stretched along major highways that bisect the city. But the buildings are like a Hollywood set. A hundred yards behind any building is the start of an endless sprawl of slums. Embassy's annual report on the Indonesian economy. Infant mortality rates and illiteracy rates are going down. The average age has risen to 61 from 41 three decades ago.
The Indonesian government says poverty has been reduced to 27 million in its population of million. But the distribution of this new wealth is wildly skewed. The nouveaux riches revel in an ostentatious display of wealth. I had an old uncle up in Tom Price. He used to work at Wittenoom, he used to dig asbestos, blue asbestos out of the ground. His mother used to say, 'I haven't got a black boy, I got a blue boy. He died of mesothelioma, and he also had renal failure. He was one of the first people that I thought might have got a payout because I told them how sick he was.
The thing that he wanted most was for a dialysis machine in his house so he could stay home and die with his family. And I would say we interviewed at least 1, people. Today, I think there's only about left.
I lost one on the weekend. In a written response to our questions he said it took time to 'assess the report properly'. I'm so angry about it, it just felt like they purposely withheld that money, just so that there was a decrease in the amount of people that they had to pay. There was no Common Experience Fund: I thought, oh my god, that's not even enough to bury them, you know? I went back, only one old lady from Tom Price, she reckoned, 'Oh, I thought you promised us a lot of money.
I don't know, I avoided her for a couple of days. When I seen her, I walked up with my head down in the cultural way, all I could do is say, 'Sorry mum. Howard Riley says he was so angry at Colin Barnett's government, he tried to tackle things in the traditional way, asking elders to put a curse on the Premier. It was so bad, I felt like…I felt there was something I needed to do, I even spoke to traditional people to sing Barnett, sing him, kill him out the way, you know. They were going, 'We don't know how to sing white people.
Name and shame list reveals underpaid employees within total of firms . While Disney gobbles up hundreds of million in taxpayer subsidies, Sanders joins workers to rail against corporate largess that denies people.
So I was disappointed with them too. Around 2, people put in a claim to the stolen wages scheme. But more than were rejected, not because they didn't have wages stolen, but because the scheme was tightly restricted. To receive anything, Aboriginal people had to have lived and worked at something called a Government Native Welfare Settlement. I would have assumed in WA meant run directly by government and yet it seems some of the ones they've included were not run directly by government. I don't know that they know what they mean. People can create terms if they want to. The reality that I've indicated from our discussion and what we've found in the files is that people's wages were controlled outside of these settlements.
And to disregard those realities is an incredible act of risk management.
Background Briefing has obtained an internal memorandum to the Director General of the Department of Indigenous Affairs, three months into the reparations scheme. It shows that even the Department didn't know what was in and what was out. There were four institutions which were definitely considered Government Native Welfare Settlements, and then another 58 which were either 'proposed definite' or 'questionable'. And this week the Indigenous Affairs Minister told Background Briefing that instead of specific locations, all applications were decided on a case by case basis.
Mabel Juli put in an application for more than three decades of unpaid labour at the pastoral station Springvale. She was rejected, which she says hurt her. Yeah, it made me angry. It's working for tea, sugar, bread and flour, that's all. Her art shows Springvale Station, where she worked unpaid for decades, where her family is buried, and where her Dreaming is. Yeah, I got my Dream there. Fellow artist Nancy Nodea put in a stolen wages application for unpaid work on a pastoral station and for unpaid work as a child at the Derby Leprosarium, where she was also a patient.
She was successful, but once again there was no explanation. Nancy Nodea can only guess it's for her work at the leprosarium, but not for her years on a pastoral station, which she says is upsetting. That's all we got for all those things and no more than that, that's what they told us. We just got it one time and that's it. All pastoral stations appear to have been excluded from the stolen wages scheme, apart from the government-run Moola Bulla.
It was pastoral stations where for decades owners rented Aboriginal workers from government, in a system the government's own Native Commissioner described as 'semi-slavery'. He didn't put in a claim for stolen wages, but he helped other Aboriginal people apply to the WA reparations scheme. Well, I'd like to see a lot of these people really back-paid in full for what they are asking for…before you can say justice has been done to them.
A lot of the pastoralists, they ended up being millionaires.
In a statement, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs says claims by pastoral station workers were rejected because there was no evidence their wages were controlled through trust accounts. But the government's permits system allowed Aboriginal pastoral workers to be paid nothing at all.
I know how hard the Aboriginal people worked, how much they suffered, and even a lot of Aboriginal people's wives and girlfriends suffered as a result of the white stockmen out there, you know, how they were taken advantage of, even by the station owners. I seen that with my own eyes.
I was only Yeah, used to come into their camp and just take them out for…how much it takes. As well as pastoral stations not having to pay their Aboriginal workers, there were extra millions of Aboriginal money to steal.
In the Commonwealth had decided that Aboriginal people were, like the rest of the population, entitled to old age pensions, child endowments, and maternity payments. In WA, those benefits were embezzled en masse for more than two decades. Up until the mid '60s, they certainly didn't reach the people that they were intended to. She shows me a government document from , marked 'confidential' and signed by the WA Native Welfare Commissioner. It contains instructions on how to distribute Aboriginal pension money. The Native Welfare Department and the Department of Social Services decided that Aboriginal pension recipients would get 10 shillings of that, and the remainder of the pension payment would go to either the station manager or owner or the mission superintendent.
In , the actuaries from WA's Stolen Wages Taskforce calculated the money stolen from Aboriginal pensioners in the '30s and '60s. Background Briefing has obtained those calculations. Certainly, and in this same document, the circular to Native Welfare Field Officers, it details similar sorts of controls over maternity allowance payments and child endowment.
The embezzlement of benefits was so bad that in the state government was forced to set up an inquiry under Magistrate Davies. Dr Skyring says Magistrate Davies uncovered systemic abuses but no criminal charges were ever laid. Recently, Dr Skyring tried, but failed, to obtain Magistrate Davies' full report from the s through Freedom of Information. We had huge difficulty getting this information from the then Department of Indigenous Affairs in Western Australia because they actually control access to these records. Then when we got a copy of the file detailing the investigations, a lot of the names were redacted.
The information in the government's vast system of files is key to unravelling the damage done by stolen wages. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of trust accounts in Western Australia, the significant lack of surviving records and the passage of time, the taskforce could not develop an actuarial model that could illuminate the true value or full impact of any compensation. Actuarial firm Barton Consulting, which was paid by government and did develop just such an actuarial model, declined to speak to Background Briefing. When I hear people such as Minister Collier say that the evidence doesn't exist, he's incorrect.
The evidence does exist. According to research published by Steve Kinnane, of the almost 11, administrative files created by the Department of Native Welfare, about half were destroyed. Steve Kinnane says the personal files often contain more financial information than the administrative files because governments did record when they were grudgingly forced to spend money. For example, his grandmother's request for new underpants was obsessively documented. The one thing that got my sister angry was that she had to ask a chief protector, a government worker, a man, permission to buy her underwear, and that he would send someone down to a local store here in Perth to purchase her underwear.
That it would be put in a parcel by a government worker and posted to her using her own wages, the money that they had taken from her and put in her account. When if the money was in her hand, she could just go and buy her own underwear. It was just that sense of outrageous, absurd control. The Stolen Wages Taskforce didn't go through all the personal files held on Aboriginal people.
It's become more difficult for Aboriginal people to get a hold of their own personal files. Until recently, the files were kept by the state's Family Information and Records Bureau. Background Briefing can reveal that just one month before government announced its stolen wages reparation scheme, it closed that Bureau. Now any Aboriginal person who wants their own state file has to make a Freedom of Information request. Now you have to be very clear about what you want.
You have to put that very definitely in an FOI request, and they will respond only to that request. They will do a search of that file only for that information. But of course for most people, you don't know what's in the file. So you actually don't know what to ask for. Steve Kinnane thinks there's enough in the personal files to be able to work out exactly what some individuals are owed, and when there's not, to tailor a payout depending on occupation. You could get a sense of what was the common story for a stockman?
What was the common story for a domestic servant? What was the common story for someone in the Kimberley? You would be able to say, 'We don't have the actual records for you or we have your file but it doesn't detail that information, but actuarial studies that we have completed which involve the personal files and people's permissions have found that this is generally the case.
So on that basis, we can offer you this much and our sincere apology. Opposition Indigenous Affairs spokesman Ben Wyatt says if Labor wins power at the next election, it will re-visit the findings of the Stolen Wages Taskforce, including the actuarial modelling.