Unions battle colonial heritage
The link between indigenous trade unions and de-colonising the island nations of the Pacific is part of a unique study by a James Cook University academic.
Dr Stephane Le Queux from JCU’s School of Business is investigating not only the political role of the indigenous trade unions but also their conflict with traditional unions in New Caledonia and French Polynesia.
He has already conducted a first round of interviews with all the most important trade unions and employer associations, and collected data from territorial authorities.
“What clearly transpired from this first round of fieldwork was the foremost importance of Indigenous issues,” Dr Le Queux said.
“This included their interest in what was happening in relation to Indigenous issues in Australia, but there also the broader issues such as environmental sustainability in regard to the mining industry in New Caledonia and the level of dependence on French subsidies in Polynesia.
“While the research is about industrial relations defined broadly – labour relations and organised labour, work and the labour market, labour institutions and regulations – the conflict between the indigenous unions and the multi-racial traditional unions and the political role the former are playing cannot be ignored.
“Unfortunately, there is little such research in Australia and there is nothing to be found in the English speaking IR literature, so this is pioneering work,” Dr Le Queux said.
“We tend to forget that the closest of these French territories – New Caledonia – is less than two hours by plane from Brisbane, and yet we know little about what is happening there.
“For example New Caledonia, because of its extensive mining industry coupled with French subsidies, is by far the most developed Pacific economy. Its GDP per capita is at first world levels and higher than New Zealand’s, although there is a significant disparity in the distribution of income.”
Nickel from New Caledonia is processed at Queensland Nickel’s Yabulu nickel and cobalt refinery northwest of Townsville.
JCU’s expertise in tropical issues, sustainability and commitment to Indigenous affairs has provided a base for Dr Le Queux’s research, which was made possible by a seed grant from the University’s Faculty of Law Business and the Creative Arts.
His research is also linked to the French Canadian based Interuniversity Research Centre on Globalisation and Work, and TransOceanik: a joint venture between JCU’s Cairns Institute and the laboratory of anthropology of the Collège de France.
Dr Le Queux has written extensively on Australian industrial relations over the past 15 years and is regarded as a leading expert in the field, particularly in the French-speaking world.
Issued: March 19, 2013
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