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stolen wages

From the 1890’s until the 1970’s the wages and savings of Aboriginal workers were controlled by successive governments under compulsory labour contracts. In Queensland, wages and other monies belonging to these workers were kept in government-held “trust” accounts. Since the 1980’s these workers have waited in good faith for their wage claims, which records show could amount to as much as $500 million to be settled.

In 2002 Queensland Government made a ‘take it or leave it’ capped reparations offer of $55 million to Aboriginal & Islander people whose wages and savings were held for them in trust by previous governments.
This is only a tiny fraction of the "stolen wages" and former workers have declared the offer inadequate.
The offer amounts to fixed payments of $2000 or $4000 to individual claimants alive after 9 May 2002, which was the day the offer was first made.
Families of deceased workers cannot apply.
The offer requires claimants to sign an indemnity to say they will not take any legal action to recover what might be owed.
Even if they have records to prove it, they cannot claim all their money without taking the Government to court.

Unions and their representative bodies across Queensland and Australia have declared their support for this issue as one belonging to workers and former workers and therefore central to unions themselves.

A campaign supported by ANTaR, the Queensland coalition of Indigenous organisations (FAIRA, ACC, GMAG & others), Queensland Council of Unions, Victorian Trades Hall Council and AAWL has been developed with the ACTU and unions in other states also declaring their support for the stolen wages as a workers' issue.

Central demands of the campaign are that:

    • The current offer should be considered a down payment.
    • The current offer should be extended to families of deceased workers.
    • The stolen wages issue must be re-negotiated directly with Aboriginal communities.

You can help to achieve justice for the affected Indigenous workers.

AAWL proposes the following motion to unions:

This union meeting demands:

  • The full payment of all unpaid and underpaid wages and withheld savings, indexed to present levels owed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers
  • The creation of provision for the workers’ descendants to make claims for Stolen Wages
  • That the cut-off date for submitting claims be withdrawn
  • That the requirement to surrender civil and legal rights when claimants accept payment or down payments be withdrawn
    • We call upon our union, state trade and labour councils, the ACTU and the ICFTU to take up this campaign, inform all union members of the importance of this issue and take action.
    • We call upon unions affiliated to the ALP to request immediate implementation of Queensland State Conference 2004 platform
      and 2005 State Conference on Stolen Wages
    • We call upon labour lawyers to provide pro-bono advice and strategies for Stolen Wages claimants

support wage justice

If you would like to be kept up to date on developments you can join a Stolen Wages Update email list by writing to Christine Howes at for regular media, union, coalition and national updates.



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