Unemployed workers in Cairns are being harassed and fined by the police for providing information to unemployed workers about their rights without a permit.
On the 17th of May, the Queensland police forcibly shut down an Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union (AUWU) information stall outside the Cairns Centrelink. The AUWU member operating the stall presented the Queensland police with a receipt for a permit purchased for $225 from the Cairns Regional Council on the 10th of May 2016 (see below). In response, the police informed the Cairns branch that they would arrest anybody who continued to operate the information stall.
On the 20th of May, the AUWU Cairns branch received a $589 fine from the Queensland police for operating the stall without a permit (see below). The penalty infringement notice stated that the information stall violated CODE 10011 Section 38 (2) (b) of the State Penalties Enforcement Act 1999. This states that a person “must not undertake prescribed activity without permit/contrary to condition”.
The regional branch organizer and stall operator David Rainbow strongly condemned the “pure harassment” by the council and authorities.
“We are not obstructing anything, we are not being abusive, we are not harassing anyone. This is pure harassment by the council, by the authorities, to deny one third of the population of Cairns information to their basic rights”.
In light of the recent death of 18 year-old Josh Park-Fing at his Work for the Dole site, Mr Rainbow highlighted the importance of this information to the safety and wellbeing of unemployed workers.
“We are providing basic information to unemployed people – who are one third of the population of Cairns – about their basic occupation health and safety rights working for the dole.”
Pointing to the fact that charities such as the Cancer Council and the Legacy are permitted by the council to solicit for donations on the street in Cairns, “we have the right to set up an information stall and provide basic information to people about their entitlements and their rights under the law.”
“The precedent for other community groups – such as ‘Save City Place, who had a Marquee set up in City Place for a month – has been no permit required. That’s the advice the Councillor Richie Bates first provided to us”.
President of the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union Owen Bennett said that the Union would be launching a legal action against the oppressive and illegal behaviour of the Cairns Regional Council, the Police and Centrelink.
“What we have seen is the Cairns Regional Council, The Police, Centrelink and job agencies colluding to keep unemployed workers in the dark about their basic rights under the law. Without access to their basic rights, unemployed workers are at a greater risk of being unfairly treated, bullied, injured or even death”, said Mr. Bennett
“Not only are Centrelink and the employment services industry failing to uphold their legal obligation to provide information to unemployed workers about their rights, they are preventing others from doing so. This sort of discriminatory and punitive approach to unemployed workers must end.”