National Reconciliation Week is an annual event in Australia. It celebrates Indigenous culture and history and encourages dialogue. On 27 May 2021, BESIX Watpac held a special event at each of its sites to remind and renew its commitment to reconciliation.
Australian history has been marked by violence between non-Indigenous Australians and Indigenous Australians, i.e. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. "It’s important that we do some truth-telling about our history - that there were frontier wars in Australia – our schools don’t teach us that," said Mick Gooda, a leading advocate for social justice and Indigenous rights. He was speaking to BESIX Watpac staff at the company's Brisbane headquarters on 27 May. "We need to get to the point where we all acknowledge what happened, allow the wounds of those events to heal and then we can all move on together." Mick Gooda's resolutely positive speech calls on Australians to shape a future together, with respect for Indigenous cultures.
This approach, which focuses on recognising the cultural and spiritual heritage of Indigenous people, is an integral part of BESIX Watpac's corporate culture. The company promotes reconciliation through its Reconciliation Action Plan, which focuses on employment and training as sustainable solutions. This initiative is itself overseen by a National Indigenous Affairs Manager, James Alley, who works closely with all BESIX Watpac projects to maximise opportunities.
The results are remarkable and make BESIX Watpac an example in the field. For the construction of the Queensland Country Bank Stadium, a 25,000-seat stadium in Townsville, BESIX Watpac achieved an Indigenous employment rate of 11.6%, almost double the original target of 6%. And this is but one example. The rate was 11.7% for the construction of the JCU Ideas Lab in Cairns and 12.3% for the expansion of the Sun Metals refinery. Similarly, the company is committed to actively working with Indigenous businesses to improve their capabilities, training processes, increase their access to business opportunities and expand supply chain opportunities.
James Alley, National Indigenous Affairs Manager: “The BESIX Watpac cultural journey has evolved substantially with our processes now focused strongly on driving Indigenous engagement and participation, both on our worksites and through business opportunities. Upskilling the next generation of Indigenous workers is more than our responsibility, it’s the right thing to do."
BESIX Watpac regularly takes new initiatives to make its commitment even more concrete. In March 2021, for example, the company signed an MoU with the Yarpa Indigenous Business and Employment Hub. The aim is to facilitate outsourcing to Indigenous businesses by increasing the visibility of these businesses and the pool of available talent.
Jean-Pol Bouharmont, CEO of BESIX Watpac: “As a major national, multi-disciplinary construction contractor, BESIX Watpac recognises our responsibility to use our buying power to generate social value above and beyond the dollar value of our projects.”
In doing so, BESIX Watpac certainly contributes to Mick Gooda's vision and inspiring words. “When we all come together to acknowledge the truth, reconcile our historic differences, eliminate injustices and celebrate our shared future as united Australians, we will have achieved true reconciliation.”