May 15, 2019

A class action seeking payment of “stolen wages” withheld from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers could be delayed in the Federal Court until early next year.

Cairns legal firm, Bottoms English Lawyers (BELAW), last year lodged a claim on behalf of former North Queensland stockman Hans Pearson, but this action could potentially affect thousands of other Indigenous Queenslanders.

The class action is based on the fact that Queensland “Protection Acts” in force between 1939 and 1972 required the wages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers be paid to the Protector or Superintendent of a Reserve.

The law firm says these monies were paid to the Protector or Superintendent on “trust”, or subject to a fiduciary duty to act with care and control of the money received.

It claims the State breached its duties as trustee, or its duties as fiduciary, by failing to repay that money to the workers.

The action also claims the State Government acted unconscionably when it introduced a Reparations Scheme in 2015 for these workers by demanding that a Deed of Agreement releasing the State from future action had to be signed as a condition to obtaining a payment.

The firm claims Indigenous workers could be owed “many multiples” of what the State offered in the Reparations Scheme.

The case was mentioned in the Federal Court in Brisbane on Monday.

Justice Bernard Michael Murphy suggested an eight-week trial for the case to start possibly next February.

On its website, BELAW is inviting people who had wages withheld – or who are related to a deceased person who had wages withheld – to contact them to investigate whether they are eligible to join the class action.

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