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Bishop says Qld Govt 'unpaid wages' offer only hints at justice

Toowoomba's Bishop William Morris has described the Queensland Government's "unpaid wages" offer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as only a "faint shadow of justice".

"The way in which the offer was made and the process of consultation conducted would not have been tolerated if the people involved had been white middle class public servants," said Bishop Morris, who is also chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council.

"These people are expected to sign for $4000 or $2000 without being shown any of their wage records," he said. "As part of an out-of-court settlement they will never be allowed to claim for other unpaid entitlements nor will they be allowed to seek legal action if they were ever the victims of sexual harassment or workplace bullying."

Bishop Morris and the Social Justice Commission for the Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba are urging Premier Beattie and Minister Spence to appoint an independent body to investigate and arrive at a just and fair settlement.

At a cost of $1.5 million, the Beattie government has established a "Work and Savings History" unit to investigate the issue of unpaid wages. QAILLS has spent $800,000 researching the matter and noted historian Dr Ros Kidd has conducted quantitative research over a number of years demonstrating the extent of wages taken from Aboriginal people from the year 1897.

A statement from the diocese's Social Justice Commission says that if this research was to be provided to an independent body, a more realistic reparation figure could be calculated. It says the Queensland government has yet to explain how the figures of $4000 and $2000 were arrived at.

The Commission points out that Catholic Social Teaching requires a just wage for workers. It says that for generations, Aboriginal people in Queensland have not received a fair or just wage at times only receiving 30% of the amount rightly owed to them. Much of this labour, it says, was forced, with one in ten people forcibly removed to a settlement or mission for refusing to sign an unjust work agreement.

Diocese of Toowoomba
ACSJC | Justice Bishop Says Give Peace a Chance

Diocese of Toowoomba

13 Aug 2002