Companies profiting from a secret system

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Big companies, including Qantas and Bunnings, are relying on prison labor in a secret production process that has been called “completely unethical” by a Victorian MP.

Inmates are paid less than a dollar an hour to perform menial tasks that provide no useful training for life after prison and reduce the wages of ordinary workers.

Proponents liken the practice to forced labor and say the extent to which it is used in the economy is unclear, as state governments keep the full list of companies that engage in it secret.

Brett Collins, who was jailed for 10 years and now heads prisoner advocacy group Justice Action, said it was ‘in effect slave labour’ where inmates are forced to work , otherwise they will have a worse time indoors.

He said inmates generally earned no more than $30 a week and in some cases were paid less than $1 an hour.

‘Taking advantage of prisoners as an alternative to Third World labor is totally against the system,’ Mr Collins said. The new daily.

“It’s taking advantage of prisoners, making profit, and it shouldn’t be a public function.”

Mr Collins said there was a difference between employing inmates to help with day-to-day tasks like cooking and cleaning, which he supports, and helping big companies profit from their skilled labour.

He said the low wages paid to inmates are being used to undermine ordinary Australian workers and that unions should demand equal pay.

‘They don’t train people to do useful work – they make sure that the maximum benefit is extracted from people’s time,’ Mr Collins added.

Queensland Corrections Minister Mark Ryan watches prisoners at Borallon Corrections and Training Center make dog treats for a pet food company. Photo: AAP

Qantas hires inmates to refurbish and recondition passenger headphones, while Bunnings sells inmate-made nuts and bolts.

Earlier this year, natural pet food company The Golden Bone Bakery said it employed six inmates at Borallon Correctional and Training Center in Queensland.

Proponents say Fantastic Furniture, Oroton and Flower Power also use prison labor, but none of these companies would confirm this. The new daily.

A tea towel shop, Mount Vic and Me, has announced that its products are handmade by inmates, but says it has ended the practice following outrage on social media.

Elsewhere, prisoners were hired to make everything from bed linen to license plates.

But no one knows exactly how many companies use prison labor in Australia, as authorities refuse to provide more details to reporters.

UTS criminologist Professor Thalia Anthony said the continued secrecy of state governments suggests “these companies don’t value people in prison and that’s a reputational issue”.

Out of sight, out of mind

In Victoria, authorities have repeatedly denied freedom of information requests from journalists about prison work.

The leader of the Reason Party, State MP Fiona Patten, tried to ask the Minister for Corrections in Victoria which companies were profiting from cheap prison labour.

She found the process “incredibly difficult”.

“The [Victorian] the government is constantly telling us that all the agreements they have with various companies are commercial trust,” Ms Patten said. DT.

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Inmates at Cooma Correctional Center in southern New South Wales are employed to make underwear and other textile products. Photo: AAP

In New South Wales, prison labor is the responsibility of the government-owned company Corrective Services Industries, which works in more than 20 prisons across the state.

DT filed a request under the Public Access to State Government Information Act. After six months, the request for information was refused.

Indeed, some companies have not consented to the disclosure of their use of prison labour.

The state government argued that it therefore could not share a list of companies that use prison labor because such information “could reasonably be expected to cause harm to the commercial, commercial or professional interests of some of the companies. who engage with CSI”.

Protecting businesses from these potentially harmful effects trumped the public’s right to know, the state government argued.

“Because they are so secretive about it, I can’t say for sure, but from what I can see and from what I hear from people in prison and families of people in prison , it’s totally unethical,” Ms Patten said. added.

“People are seriously working for less than $5 a day.”

A “problematic dependency relationship”

As a former prisoner, Mr Collins said teaching inmates skills and preparing them for life after prison is a good thing.

“If they were training people for jobs that actually exist, in areas where they actually need workers, then that would be smart,” he said.

“They don’t do that at all.”

He added: “It has the opposite effect. It makes them think, ‘Well, I’m not going to get a job if that’s what a job means.’

In many cases, the stigma surrounding prison sentences can prevent many former prisoners from finding meaningful work.

Professor Anthony, who has personally interviewed inmates as part of his academic research, says many inmates develop a “problematic dependency relationship” with work arrangements.

“They viewed the nature of the worker as subordinate,” she said. DT.

“To a certain extent, it was a way of surviving the prisons, of being stimulated, of thinking about all the losses in your life that occur because you are in prison.

“I don’t think that means the jobs are challenging. I think it’s more a question of the fact that their situation is so desperate, what makes them work and makes them willing to work for such small sums.

Meanwhile, as well as paying higher wages, Ms Patten wants companies that use prison labor to commit to providing permanent outside jobs.

At Long Bay Correctional Center in Sydney, inmates work in several industries, including tech assembly and food service.
At Long Bay Correctional Center in Sydney, inmates work in several industries, including tech assembly and food service. Photo: AAP

As with all prison issues in Australia, prison labor issues disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

First Nations inmates make up about one-third of the prison population, although they make up about 2% of the general population. Experts consider them the most incarcerated group in the world.

Prof Anthony said many First Nations inmates are likely to have a disproportionately negative experience of prison work due to systemic racism.

For context, she also noted, “Angela Davis wrote about how the abolition of slavery led to black people being imprisoned, and in turn the use of their slave labor in jail.”

The path to follow

When she spoke to DTMs Patten was on a research trip to New Zealand to find out how parental incarceration can affect children.

Not only do most inmates have limited freedom in how they spend their money, but the things they can afford in prison are prohibitively expensive compared to their meager income.

“If they want to call their son or daughter for 10 minutes, that’s two days pay,” Ms Patten said.

“And if they have three children, forget it. Choose a favourite.

In the current prison setting, advocates believe inmates should have the opportunity to do meaningful work for fair pay.

“People who are really totally vulnerable and feel so bad about themselves – all you do is reduce them to a greater level of submission and degrade them by giving them jobs than there are there’s no way in the world they would.” outside,” Mr. Collins said.

“As opposed to learning something they can actually use.”

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