Through the recruitment of their first Aboriginal organiser in WA, Kimberley, the AMWU, is reaching out to indigenous communities at the forefront of the nation’s resources expansion.
In a statement from the Union, the WA branch is working closely with the Kimberley Land Council to deliver the concept of workers’ rights to Aboriginal communities whose lands contain vast mineral wealth. And the union believed Russell “Wossy” Davey presented as the right person to advance that cause.
Having worked in the mining industry, and being a Bardi Jawi man from One Arm Point, 220km north of Broome, Mr Davey is said to have deep community, cultural and family contacts across the Kimberley.
“A lot of people don’t know what the union is about, they have to be given the information that our union is here to help them and not to make trouble,” he said
“It’s particularly needed with the resources and mining, where there will be big changes for communities and the chances of jobs coming with the gas and other projects.”
The AMWU has revealed his appointment comes as the opportunities for improving the living standards of indigenous communities through mining in their traditional lands is a focus of national debate, in particular the future of gas development in the Kimberley.
Since his appointment, Mr Davey has been learning industrial relations technicalities and enterprise negotiations in AMWU courses held in Sydney.
“This opened my eyes to a few things, certainly that all this time my people could have been working better and getting the right deal,” he said.
WA State Secretary Steve McCartney believes that the union also had much to learn from Mr Davey.
“We can teach him a lot but we’ll be regularly sending an AMWU organiser up there on a voluntary basis to learn about indigenous culture, something we’ve already done in other parts of the state,” he said.
Mr Davey plans to draw on his networks through the 1000km from Broome to Kununurra, and perhaps even using some of his artwork to explain what unionism is about.
“It’s a long stretch of road, but it’s a small place when you’ve been involved with the Kimberley Land Council, going out bush. You have to be able to speak directly with people, appreciate and respect their culture, their customs,” he said.