An innovative safety net has been cast across the Hunter region, with the launch of the new Hunterlink Recovery Services piloting rehabilitation and counselling services for workers at no or low cost including housing and residential opportunities
The program is focussing on workers and their family members recovering from disabilities and other problems including substance abuse and addictions..
Hunterlink Recovery Services has been established with initial funding from the trade union movement, particularly the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU), and is now seeking support from the private sector and all levels of Government. It has also been strongly supported by the Newcastle Trades Hall.
Chair of the Hunterlink Board, MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, said that the Hunter region was the ideal site for this pilot program, which if successful could be expanded to other areas across the country.
"Here in the Hunter several factors have come together to make it the perfect place to trial a program like this. There's substantial numbers of union members, many of Australia's largest companies operate locally, and those employers provide a wide range of employment opportunities that can provide pathways back for rehabilitating workers," Mr Crumlin said.
"That said, we're not looking to re-invent the wheel either. We want to work with regional employers - large and small - to fit the services we can offer with any existing, or planned, employee assistance programs.
" There has been initial work done as well in providing support for workers in the cities essential transport chain including visiting seafarers" he said.
Paul Karras, Manager of Hunterlink Recovery, who has a long history of working in the field said that they had begun offering services late last year and the response already had been very encouraging.
"Dozens of clients have already accessed our counselling and referral services, and after only opening in December our residential program is at capacity - in fact we're currently finalising the arrangements to open our second residential facility," Mr Karras said.
Mr Karras said that the service will be officially launched by the Hon Greg Combet AM MP, Federal Member for Charlton and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, on the 10th of March.
"We've had some good assistance from various levels of Government, and we'll be looking to build on the support we've received from Mr Combet as one of our local Members as we move ahead and build partnerships across government and industry," he said.
"We are also looking to further network with existing providers of related services to help fill the great gaps of support in this critical social and housing area.”