Up to 10,000 Australians with intellectual disabilities, who worked for as little as just 99¢ an hour, will share in a massive $100 million federal government payout after a landmark discrimination lawsuit, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
“We will no longer have workers with intellectual disabilities working in Dickensian conditions,” Maurice Blackburn partner Josh Bornstein said on Friday.
“This class action settlement will help to right the wrongs that have been committed.”
Across the nation thousands of people with disabilities are employed in packaging, manufacturing and cleaning jobs at hundreds of Australian Disability Enterprises, formerly known as “sheltered workshops”.
In a highly anticipated ruling, the Federal Court on Friday approved the commonwealth’s multimillion-dollar settlement of the long-running class action lawsuit, which has been battling for backpay for thousands of these staff.
It has previously been ruled that the federal government system of calculating their wages was in violation of anti-discrimination laws.
Some individual employees, who earned a fraction of the minimum wage, are now in line to receive as much as $100,000 in backpay.
Mr Bornstein said the $100 million settlement, the largest of any case he had ever worked, was an “historic outcome”.
He described the treatment of workers with intellectual disabilities as “absolutely prehistoric”.
“These workers work under the radar … and we’ve made it a very public issue,” he said.
“As a result, wage policy is changing ,and these workers are slowly moving towards a more mainstream treatment in the wage system.”
“It’s been a David and Goliath battle … and the most unusual battle I’ve ever been involved with,” he told The Guardian
Friday’s federal court ruling ends a class action launched in 2013 on behalf of the lead plaintiff, Tyson Duval-Comrie, who earned $1.77 an hour working at a centre that packages sugar sticks in boxes.
About 10,000 affected workers will be compensated as a result of Friday’s settlement. The wage assessment tool was amended in March to increase payments to disabled workers.
$100 million payday for $1-an-hour staff with disabilities (Sydney Morning Herald)