Returning stolen wages ‘an act of healing'

Peter Arndt (The Catholic Leader/Mark Bowling)

A Catholic human rights advocate has welcomed a historic agreement to pay lost wages to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as an act of healing. Source: The Catholic Leader.

“This is quite a significant step forward to healing divisions and creating a possibility for greater trust and respect,” Brisbane Archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission executive officer Peter Arndt said.

On July 9, the Queensland Government announced settlement of a class action on behalf of an estimated 10,000 Indigenous workers who had their wages stolen last century.

The settlement to the ageing workers or their descendants applies in Queensland but is expected to lead to flow-on lawsuits in New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

The lead applicant, 77-year-old Hans Pearson, took the Queensland Government to the Federal Court to claim wages he earned but did not receive.

His class action covered 1939 to 1972, when Mr Pearson and his fellow Indigenous workers – often working as stockmen or domestic workers – had their pay given to the state under the Protection Act. He argued the State Government breached its duties as a trustee and fiduciary by withholding the wages.

Mr Arndt, who has followed the case over the past decade, said working for no wages, unlike the rest of the Queensland community, meant Indigenous workers had been forced to live in poverty.

“In 2019 we think things are so much better in terms of relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but when people are still waiting for just outcomes in terms of wages for the work that they’ve done it demonstrates how far we have to go,” he said.

“It underlines some Aboriginal people are still not trusting of non-Indigenous people, about how genuine they are about reconciliation.

“A lot of these people are in their older years and they don’t have much time to enjoy the fruits of their labours.”


Act of healing injustice – reparation for 10,000 Indigenous workers who had wages stolen (The Catholic Leader)

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