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ASIAN LABOR: WAGES OF SHAME - Chicago Tribune
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But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. I Support Common Dreams. Common Dreams, a non-profit newscenter, has published days a year since To ignite change for the common good. I'm Sarah Dingle and on Background Briefing today, we expose how the state of Western Australia risk-managed its way out of paying back what it stole.
In the state of Western Australia, until a series of laws handed the government's Native Welfare Department enormous control of its Aboriginal people. Well, it's often said that the Aborigine is not a very productive worker, he is inherently slow and can't accept much responsibility. Dr Rosalind Kidd is recognised as one of Australia's foremost experts on stolen wages, having researched the issue for two decades.
She says until , WA's legal control of Aboriginal people was near total. Their controls affected every aspect of Aboriginal life; where you could live, the work you could do, whether or not you got paid a wage, whether or not you were allowed to access that wage, because under the government system, a lot of that wage went either directly to government officials or the government turned a blind eye to the fact in the pastoral industry that people were not paid a wage for much of the 20th century through to the late '60s.
The government dictated where Aboriginal people worked, sending people to work as labourers, in hospitals, sewing rooms, as domestics, or on pastoral stations. And it created a vast system of files documenting every aspect of their lives. In , like many others, Steve Kinnane's grandmother Jessie was under surveillance. This system of surveillance continued right up until They document who you're seeing, where you're living, who you're related to, personal relationships, how much money you're earning, how much money they're taking from your earnings, what they're spending that money on.
Steve Kinnane says on top of surveillance, the government's financial controls meant total control. The files show Jessie Smith needed medical treatment for a disease which would ultimately kill her. She had a bone disease in her leg, which was tied to her sugar diabetes. She was informed that she should see the government doctor who was based in Perth. That meant that she had to give up her employment for that time, travel to Perth, stay at the East Perth Girls' Home which was the only place in Perth where Aboriginal women were allowed to stay.
While they stayed there, they paid a significant sum for their boarding. She would actually go into debt. While the government may claim that they were keeping these monies for people's benefit, they were also using it to subsidise their own management and control of people. In the mid '50s, at the age of ten, Pearl Gordon had never been to school. Well, us mob used to work when we were about ten, eleven year old.
Doing things you know, like washing and hanging out, stuff like that. But that time we never got anything. Western Australia had legalised bonded labour. Effectively the government rented Aboriginal people to pastoral stations as free labourers who didn't have to be paid, only fed. You know, we're people, we're human beings like everybody else. Aboriginal people worked on a station or went to a mission and getting nothing, just flour, tea and sugar and clothing.
That's all they had, they never had any money. Often, WA station owners got a bargain with extra free child labour from workers like Pearl who came with their parents.
Then you go out and work and it was like a family thing to us mob. Dad used to make fences, we used to help Dad, whatever he was doing we used to help him on the station. Now 66, she still lives in a remote community near Texas Downs and she joined me over the phone. At nine Nancy Nodea hadn't been to school either.
Her jobs on the pastoral station included building works. We went cutting wood, you know, for the station. From the creek we used to pull a trailer with sand to make that lawn.
Minimum wage would be £26,000 if rate matched executive pay rises, GMB finds
Pull it up ourselves. Healthcare for Aboriginal workers on stations was virtually non-existent. At the age of 11, Nancy Nodea was infected with leprosy. She was sent to the Derby Leprosarium. There she went to school for the first time, but outside of school hours, despite the fact that she was a child patient with leprosy, she also had to work without pay. In the laundry or the dining hall where they used to cook for the patients. Sometimes to hospital, you know, helping the sisters with dressing patients.
At 15 Nancy went back to her station, Texas Downs, for another decade's work. At both the leprosarium and at Texas Downs, under WA law her income was withheld from her. Historian Dr Rosalind Kidd says even the head of the Department of Native Welfare described what was happening as slavery. In Dr Rosalind Kidd wrote the terms of reference for the national Senate inquiry into Aboriginal stolen wages. The Senate said in WA there was 'substantial evidence' Aboriginal wages were stolen. It recommended a WA compensation scheme as a matter of urgency.
There is little or no evidence that these wages were returned. In the same speech, Peter Collier abruptly announced the start of a reparation scheme. It began that day and closed nine months later. Right from the start, there were a number of caveats. And we'll come back to Moore River Native Settlement later in this program.
The reparations scheme was based on a major stolen wages report to government completed four years earlier in , which had been kept secret. The government had paid actuarial firm, Barton Consultancy, to dig into decades of government files and run the numbers. Background Briefing has obtained hundreds of pages of taskforce research and government briefings, including the actuarial modelling, released under Freedom of Information. In , a taskforce of top government bureaucrats and Indigenous consultants had began an investigation into WA's stolen wages.
In a little over a year they travelled to almost 60 towns across the state to interview more than 1, people. I need people to know that there was a group of people who were determined to get this stuff sorted out in a good way for Aboriginal people. I was sworn to confidentiality from the outset, when I became an advisor to the taskforce we had to sign a piece of paper.
We had to declare that we weren't going to repeat anything that we'd done that would be detrimental to the government. It would have been the Labor government, but I never signed any confidentiality agreement with the Liberal government. The taskforce soon realised there were a whole range of ways in which money had been stolen from Aboriginal people in WA. All pensions and child endowment monies are at present handled by the station manager, who uses them to offset credit buying at the station store.
What's left goes into a trust fund, which the native can't touch without government permission. For decades, Aboriginal pensions, maternity payments and child endowments were stolen en masse by private employers and churches. Aboriginal workers on pastoral stations often weren't paid at all. And many of those workers had been removed from their parents.
We know for a fact that most of the Stolen Generation were used as cheap labour, some even could be classified as slave labour. They didn't receive anything, they were sent out to work on farms, cattle stations. Money that was given to them was sent to the missions instead of to the people. Howard Riley says years of stolen wages dramatically increased the numbers of the Stolen Generations. The amount of Indigenous people that was removed from their families was because their families couldn't care for them.
Native Welfare Officers made those assessments, and they knew, Native Welfare Department knew that people weren't getting money. These Native Welfare Officers come along and seen people living in squalor, which meant there was nothing in their fridges, when they had fridges, there was nothing in their cupboards. Linen was hard to come by. If you had no money, you couldn't do anything, you just had to live with the fact that your child was at risk of being taken away.
Howard Riley should know: Three generations of us got removed from our families because we didn't have the financial support to look after each other. In , faced with untangling the massive intergenerational debt left by stolen wages, the Indigenous consultants agreed on a one-off ex gratia payment. We know that people weren't going to get the hundreds of thousands that they might have been entitled to, so we didn't even meet them halfway, we went rock bottom what we thought people was worth.
And who in Treasury said that would be a comfortable figure? It came from the Treasury, I think it came from the Director General.
The state Department of Treasury declined to comment, saying the matter was subject to Cabinet approval processes at the time. He says mining royalties were mentioned. Then they started telling us, 'Oh, well, I don't think those people should be getting this and that, because a lot of them get royalties anyway,' because we talked about the people in the Pilbara and the Kimberleys.
But that does not pay for their pain and suffering when they used to live from one day to the next with nothing. Meanwhile the actuaries consulting to the taskforce were starting from the other end, using government records to model what the missing wages might look like in today's terms. Moore River Native Settlement was one of the biggest government-run institutions in the state. The money was supposed to have been kept in trust by government, so the actuaries added a long-term bond rate from I'm shocked to see the amount so carefully worked out by their own actuarial people.
If she was behaving herself, she could keep more of her money as pocket money. The government file on Jessie Smith, including her time at Moore River, runs to about pages. It was some physical abuse, thankfully not sexual, but I have known of many cases of women who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of their employers and have made complaints to the Department.
That is documented within their personal files. Also what is documented often is the lack of response of the government to those kinds of accusations.
ASIAN LABOR: WAGES OF SHAME
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