A profile of Indigenous workers in the private sector

Author/editor: Taylor, J, Hunter, B
Year published: 1997
Issue no.: 137


The current re-orientation in policy emphasis towards engagement with the private sector as the primary source of future employment growth for Indigenous people raises questions about how this might be achieved. As a prior step, this paper considers what is known about the present involvement of Indigenous people in the private sector and how this might be relevant to policy development.

A profile of the Indigenous private sector workforce:

  • In 1991, private sector jobs accounted for 42 per cent of all Indigenous jobs as opposed to 70 per cent for non-Indigenous Australians.
  • According to the 1994 NATSIS there was no growth in private sector employment in the early 1990s.

Most private sector jobs are found in urban areas. Capital cities stand out as having a greater share (39 per cent) than suggested by their share of population (27 per cent). The proportion of private sector jobs found in rural areas (18 per cent) is considerably less than expected given that 31 per cent of the population was located in rural areas.

While Indigenous private sector workers have many of the same characteristics as their counterparts in public sector jobs there are a number of key differences. First, they have the option of self-employment; are in relatively insecure jobs; are more likely to be in part-time work but are also more likely to work over-time; are more likely to be males; tend to be younger; have a much greater spread across income categories than public sector workers and are more likely to be earning both the lowest and the highest incomes.

Compared to private sector workers as a whole, Indigenous employees in private sector jobs are over-represented in primary industries and under-represented in retail and wholesale industries as well as in finance and business services. For both groups most workers are found in manufacturing and in wholesale and retail industries.

Within industry groupings substantial concentration of Indigenous employment exists. Private sector activities from which Indigenous workers are noticeably under-represented tend to be in service industries and those requiring high skill levels and professional accreditation. As a consequence Indigenous people are relatively absent from some of the country's major employer groups and key areas of private sector growth such as in the hospitality and retail industries.

Policy implications

A degree of caution and policy realism is required in pursuing the goal of increased private sector employment as this could result in changes to the employment profile which may be construed as a backward step for Indigenous people and for related goals of policy:

  • Less job security and more casual/part-time work; greater scope for males and younger people but less for females and older people; more workers on low salaries and fewer training opportunities.
  • On the positive side, there is likely to be a greater proportion of high income earners, but this will be dependent on raising the numbers who are self-employed.

To add to this, a major structural factor affecting Indigenous participation in the private sector is provided by location. This is because the majority of Indigenous people remain widely scattered across non-metropolitan regions, while new business activity and growth in private sector employment is increasingly focused on a few mega-metropolitan areas.

ISBN: 0 7315 2572 8

ISSN:1036 1774

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