Mid West Aboriginal people paid in “rations” join landmark stolen wages class action

Phoebe PinMidwest Times
Members of the Geraldton and Mid West Aboriginal community have registered for the class action for stolen wages in WA.
Camera IconMembers of the Geraldton and Mid West Aboriginal community have registered for the class action for stolen wages in WA. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

Indigenous people from across the Mid West who were paid in food rations and “pocket money” during the 20th century have joined a landmark class action aimed at returning the money they are owed.

The action was filed in the Federal Court in October by Shine Lawyers on behalf of Indigenous workers in WA whose wages were withheld or not paid as a result of wage control legislation, which was in effect in the State until 1972.

Outreach sessions were this month held in Geraldton and other Mid West communities to enable locals to register for the claim against the State Government.

Shine Lawyers special counsel Tristan Gaven said many had shared heartbreaking stories.

“Unfortunately, it is a very common theme from some of the people to have done very hard work for little or no wages,” he said.

“They were just being paid in rations, board, pocket money or bits and pieces like going to the local show once a year.”

The number of people we have spoken to who have actually received reparations is very low.

“Several of these people are 80 or 90 years old, so it is really incredible that they were able to come along and register their interest,” he said.

Mr Gaven said thousands of Indigenous workers were estimated to have wages owing, with many unaware of previous schemes aimed at returning unpaid monies.

“The number of people we have spoken to who have actually received reparations is very low,” he said.

Shine Lawyers will be conducting outreach sessions across WA until mid-August, when Mr Gaven said experts would start compiling evidence for the class action.

“At the same time, we are engaging in this mediation process with the State on August 2 to hopefully develop a framework for settlement,” he said. “The State has been very co-operative and has expressed a desire to resolve this without the need to go to trial.”

Information sessions will be held in locations across the Goldfields, Kimberley, South West and Wheatbelt regions in the coming weeks.

Visit shine.com.au/stolenwages wa or call 1800 976 150 for details.

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