A class action has commenced in Queensland on behalf of hundreds of Indigenous Australians who were impacted by wage control legislation between 1939 and 1972.
16 Sep 2016 - 5:49 PM  UPDATED 21 Sep 2016 - 11:29 AM

The action was launched against the State of Queensland on behalf of Mr Hans Pearson - Noel Pearson’s uncle.

For almost 80 years, thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers’ wages were held in Government-controlled trust accounts in accordance with various legislation and which were never paid to them in full.

Pearson only realised that his money was missing when he went to collect it after 10 years of labour, he revealed on ABC's 7:30 program.

"When I was called up to the police station, me and the wife went up and he had a cheque there waiting for me for 28 pounds. I said, 'Is this all I'm getting?' He said, 'That's all you had'."

Pearsons’ biggest dream was to buy a home to establish a life for he and his family. a common dream, that most Australians aspire to have, and something that should have been achievable. But Hans never was able to fulfil his dream. Instead, he lived in public housing for 46 years, the missing wages preventing him from achieving his dream of owning a house.

"The first 10 years of your life, you're working to buy yourself a home, to set your family up. That's every person's dream," Pearson told 7:30.

Bottoms English Lawyers (BELAW) Principal John Bottoms said Mr Pearson and other indigenous Australians had suffered significantly from “protection” legislation.

“As part of this action, we allege that the State held Mr Pearson’s wages for work completed between 1953 and 1963 in trust pursuant to a fiduciary duty and yet has not returned the vast bulk of it,” he said.

“Because of this policy, Mr Pearson essentially worked a decade of his life for next to no remuneration.”

Historians estimate that the State of Queensland alone may owe indigenous workers approximately $500 million, and it is likely that many millions more may be owed to Indigenous workers in other Australian states and territories.

Cairns-based law firm BELAW and Shine Lawyers are collaborating in respect of these claims, with BELAW running the Queensland action and Shine Lawyers progressing investigations in other Australian states and territories.

Shine Lawyers Partner Jan Saddler is leading the investigations into similar actions nationally. She told NITV News that instead of protection, our people were treated like slaves.

“We’re talking about stockmen, farm hands, laundry assistants and other domestic workers who worked tirelessly in harsh, isolated conditions for next to nothing,” she said.

“These policies were supposed to protect people but instead left thousands of Indigenous people effectively working as slaves because they never received their wages.”

In a bid to move forward and help those in the fight for justice, Saddler says that she believes this case will receive fair treatment and people will be paid the sum that’s rightfully theirs.

“We will be working on behalf of thousands of these deserving workers and their families to recover the wages that remain unpaid because of unfair and unjust government policies.”

Quick Facts:

• Class action involves 300 Aboriginal people who say they were not paid for years of labour.
• For almost 80 years, the wages of Aboriginal people were controlled by the State and held in trusts, with much of money lost or stolen
• Government paid people 'miniscule amount' in return for waiving legal rights in 2002