What is the Stolen Wages Class Action?
A class action is a legal case brought by a person (who is called the “Applicant”) on behalf of a group of people (who are called the “group members”) against another person (who is called the “respondent”). It is called a “class action” when the
applicant and the group members have similar claims against the respondent.
In September 2016 a class action was started in the Federal Court of Australia by Hans Pearson (who is the Applicant) against the State of Queensland (who is the respondent). The case is called Pearson v State of Queensland and it is about the payment for
work undertaken by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland between 1939 and 1972. This class action is called “The Stolen Wages Class Action”.
The Stolen Wages Class Action proceedings claimed that the Queensland “Protection Acts” in force between 1939 and 1972 required that the wages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers, were to be paid to the protector or superintendent of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander district, reserve, settlement or mission. The Applicant claimed the 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 was claimed the Queensland Government breached its duties as trustee, or its duties as a fiduciary, by failing to repay that money to the workers.
In 2002 the Queensland Government established the Stolen Wages Reparations Scheme and compensation was paid to former workers, including Mr Pearson.
The Applicant claimed that the Queensland Government acted unconscionably in the circumstances where a Deed of Agreement releasing the government had to be signed as a condition to obtaining a payment under the Reparations Scheme. In the Stolen Wages Class Action it was estimated that eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers were owed many multiples of what the Queensland Government had offered in the Reparations Scheme, taking into account interest payments.
You can read the court documents filed by the Applicant under the Documents tab (click here).
The Applicant and the Queensland Government agreed in 2019 to settle the Stolen Wages Class Action. The Queensland Government agreed to pay $190 million for compensation and legal costs. This is called the “settlement fund”. The settlement
fund is in addition to the approximately $56.5 million which has already been paid by the Queensland Government under the Reparations Scheme.
In return for the settlement fund being paid, the Applicant agreed that no more claims can be made by the Applicant or group members against the Queensland Government about the things that the class action is about. The settlement was approved by the Federal Court on 17 January 2020 along with a Settlement Distribution Scheme, which sets out how the settlement monies are to be paid. From that date, group members will not be able to make
any more claims like those in the Stolen Wages Class Action.
A copy of the Federal Court's orders on 17 January 2020 and the Settlement Distribution Scheme are available under the Documents tab (click here).
Registrations to receive a payment from the Stolen Wages settlement fund closed on 21 November 2019 (other than for Papua New Guineans, who can still register until 7 February 2020).
Stolen Wages - Gregory's story