Aboriginal prisoners used as slave labour in Northern Terriory

Aboriginal Slavery in the Salt Mines

ABC Report 12 September 2016

The Northern Territory branch of the United Voice union says a program that allows prisoners to work at a central Australian salt mine for award wages is akin to slave labour.

The Territory Government says low-security prisoners are being trained for work at a potash project near Curtain Springs because the company had trouble recruiting staff.

Aboriginal Prisoner Wages

Salt Mine Salery

Normal Mining Labour $35.00 per hour
Prisoners Labour $16.00 per hour (with deductions)


 $125 a weekly deduction for board costs in jail
 Undisclosed amount to costs of security guards
 5% goes to a victims' assistance fund*
 Remaining money goes to 'Trust Account'
 $60 per week (Net wage)

With over 90% of the prisoners being Aboriginal and all the workers being 'low security risk', this means most of these slave labourers are Aboriginal people - many were imprisoned for punitive offences.
*5% of their wages going to the victims assistance fund which appears to be deducted whether they have victims relating to their conviction or not.
... and we know all about Trust Accounts (Stolen Wages that mysteriously go missing).

Salt Mine Location

It is not known how many prisoners are working at the site, which is about 250 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs.

The Country Liberal Government introduced its Sentenced To A Job program for prisoners in Territory jails earlier this year.

They can work on both public and private projects, but only inmates in the lowest security classifications can take part in the scheme.

Of their earnings, 5 per cent goes to a victims' assistance fund and $125 a week is deducted to cover their board costs in jail.

The prisoners get $60 a week in spending money.

Of their earnings, 5 per cent goes to a victims' assistance fund and $125 a week is deducted to cover their board costs in jail.

The remainder of what they earn is put into a trust fund and they are paid a lump sum when released from custody.

But Matthew Gardiner from United Voice says concerns have been raised by miners.

"We've had some miners in those different areas we represent coming forward, and they're a bit worried because of these large mining companies who actually quite happily use undercutting of labour and undercutting of wages to try and maximise their profits while driving down the different areas," he said.

"If anyone's working in this sector, regardless of where they come from or what they've done, they should be paid at market rate.

"This is the fair rate that's been done between employers and employees over a long period of time.

"It shouldn't be an award rate. No one in the mining sector works on award rate.

"Currently the award rate for the area is around $16 an hour, whereas someone who works off the award rate would be working about $35 an hour."

Territory Correctional Services Minister John Elferink has defended the decision to allow prisoners to work at the mine.

He says the prisoners earn the statutory wage paid to any trainee and are learning skills that will benefit them.

"They will come out with a skill set that they wouldn't otherwise have," he said.

"I'm proud of that.

"The system that we have designed is to get prisoners skilled up so they don't become prisoners again in the future.

"They are different to other employees in the sense that, if they didn't do this, they'd be sitting in a box, a concrete box, learning nothing."