December 20, 2019
The Federal Court has approved a $190 million settlement reached earlier this year in Queensland’s long-running “stolen wages” class action.
The parties involved sought payment of wages withheld from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in Queensland from the 1930s through to the 1970s.
Cairns legal firm, Bottoms English Lawyers (BELAW), last year lodged a claim in the Federal Court on behalf of former North Queensland stockman Hans Pearson.
Nearly 2000 other former workers also registered as parties to the action but thousands of other former workers and their relatives will also be affected by the settlement.
The class action was 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 said 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 claimed the State breached its duties as trustee, or its duties as fiduciary, by failing to repay that money to the workers.
The action also claimed 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.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Jackie Trad said in July the parties had agreed in principle to a settlement, subject to the Federal Court’s approval.
This occurred on Thursday in Brisbane.
Judge Bernard Murphy said $140 million – the amount left after legal and other costs – would be divided between more than 11,000 indigenous workers who had their wages stolen, or their relatives.