Australian drug testing companies unite to call for cultural respect in drug testing Indigenous workers.
They say that strict enforcement and punitive attitudes towards drug use management may derail efforts to improve their health and way of living.
Alcohol and illicit drug use by Indigenous Australians
According to a study conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare on substance abuse among Aboriginal Australians, the overall level of illicit drug use by Indigenous Australians was more than twice the level of non-Indigenous Australians.
Indigenous Australians smoke at double the rate of the non-Indigenous population, but consume significantly less alcohol. For illicit drug use, the rates between the populations are comparable, with marijuana, amphetamines and painkillers being the most common substances.
This prevalence of substance abuse in Indigenous populations is one of the major reasons they have poorer health and shorter life expectancy compared to the non-Indigenous population. To address this, the Australian Government launched the Close The Gap Campaign. This nationwide partnership implements programs that are geared towards achieving health equality for Aboriginal Australians.
A call for cultural respect in drug testing Indigenous workers
Voicing concern that strict enforcement of workplace drug policies are negatively affecting the efforts of the Close The Gap campaign, drug testers called for cultural awareness and respect towards Indigenous workers in drug testing.
Safe Work Laboratories spokesperson Andrew Liebie said that testing alone is not the solution to illicit drugs in the workplace. He mentioned that in one Indigenous apprenticeship program in Western Australia, 75 percent tested positive for drugs and alcohol.
This is not to say that companies should be more lenient in their drug policies, nor is it a condonation of drug use among the Aboriginal population. Instead, it is a call for more nuanced drug management strategies that take into account the state of Indigenous people’s health and culture.
What businesses and industries can do
In many safety-sensitive industries like mining, construction, transport, utilities and agriculture, a significant portion of their workforce are Indigenous Australians from remote and regional areas. Taking a hard-line approach to drug management runs the risk of unfairly targeting Indigenous workers in these industries. It may even adversely affect the workers’ productivity and morale, which may cost the company.
One thing employers can do is to integrate drug education and rehabilitation with drug testing. A drug policy that includes training the workers on drug safety is more effective in furthering the goal of a drug-free workplace. It is the hope that with continuing education and proactive screening, Indigenous workers who tested positive will be drug-free within a short period of time.