An Afghan refugee who injured his back at work was awarded almost $2 million in compensation for his employer’s negligence.
Rahmatullah Baig sued meatworks Teys Australia Central Queensland and labour hire company AWX in the Rockhampton Supreme Court over the 2010 injury.
The young ethnic Hazari man, who was not sure of his age, witnessed the execution of his aunt and uncle by the Taliban and fled to Pakistan.
He eventually made his way to Australia in 2009 by boat and was held in detention on Christmas Island for 10 weeks in his late teens.
An Afghan refugee (stock photo) who injured his back at work was awarded almost $2 million in compensation for his employer’s negligence
Mr Baig moved to Rockhampton in Central Queensland and worked in the abattoir for just over a month before the injury on July 5, 2010.
The worker reached to move a bull carcass on an assembly line to the point where he was almost horizontal, feeling immediate pain as he pulled it.
Doctors diagnosed him with an L5/S1 disc prolapse, where the vertebrae ruptures and the soft inner gel leaks out and pinches nerves.
Mr Baig was only given a 10 per cent impairment, but orthopaedic surgeon Paul Licina said manual labour would worsen his condition.
‘Repetitive bending or heavy lifting, especially if associated with twisting, is likely to make pain worse. Prolonged sitting beyond an hour or two is also likely to exacerbate the pain,’ he said.
The young ethnic Hazari man, who was not sure of his age, witnessed the execution of his aunt and uncle by the Taliban and fled to Pakistan (stock image)
Due to his limited English and low skill base, this made it very difficult for him to get another job and gave him little hope for his future.
‘[He has] difficulties sitting or standing for significant periods, difficulties walking when the condition was at its worst,’ Justice Duncan McMeekin said.
‘Pain interfering with concentration, a need for painkillers, stress and depression. He says that he feels that he has no hope.
‘There are cultural aspects that impact on him. He feels that as he cannot expect employment he can never marry as he cannot support a family.’
Mr Baig even had problems with common household chores like hanging out the washing, vacuuming, and preparing meals and need help from housemates.
His employers’ main defence was to paint Mr Baig as a liar and argue the injury didn’t happen at work and at very least wasn’t their fault.
Mr Baig saw a doctor on June 25 about a minor back complaint, but did not go for a follow up X-ray or take the full number of days off in his medical certificate.
He sued meatworks Teys Australia Central Queensland (pictured) and labour hire company AWX in the Rockhampton Supreme Court over the 2010 injury
He testified that the pain settled by the morning of July 5 so he went to work as he believed he was well enough to do his job.
‘The defendants’ assumption is that his (Mr Baig’s) report of feeling fit to work on Monday morning is a lie,’ Justice McMeekin said.
‘Yet everything that he did is consistent with that claim. He did not follow up on the X-ray. He did not take advantage of the three days off. He did show up for work. He did work for 10 hours.
‘He was a very long way through his 1603 beasts for the day when the subject incident occurred. Quite evidently Mr Baig was performing his work satisfactorily.’
Though Justice McMeekin criticised Mr Baig for not telling his employer about his earlier back pain, he noted previous attempts were fruitless and there seemed no point in trying again.
Workers at a staff room in Teys Australia Central Queensland, where Mr Baig was employed for just over a month
Mr Baig twice complained of having difficulty, despite his good performance, and asked to be put on different duties, but was knocked back.
‘The defendants say that his supervisors were caring and would have responded to such complaints. I am not so sure about the premise,’ he said.
Justice McMeekin listed inconsistencies in Mr Baig’s testimonies and conduct, but chalked this up to language and cultural barriers.
‘When it is said that his conduct was discreditable I see no reason to think that it was from his perspective,’ he said.
‘I am not sure that many Australian born workers would necessarily act as the defendants urge Mr Baig should have acted.
‘But cultural differences and the pressures on a refugee immigrant provide a very different background against which to judge the actions and motivations of Mr Baig.’
He eventually made his way to Australia in 2009 by boat and was held in detention on Christmas Island (pictured) for 10 weeks in his late teens
Justice McMeekin said when this was considered, Mr Baig’s conduct actually reflected well on him as it was inconsistent with someone trying to deceive.
Workplace health and safety engineer Roger Kahler testified that the defendants didn’t make use of safety protocol that could have avoided injury.
Mr Baig said there was a stop button to halt the line but using it was discouraged by his supervisors.
‘Next to me, the other person who was senior person or my supervisor, when they told me to stop it, that’s when I pressed the stop,’ he said through an interpreter.
‘On my own, I cannot stop it for myself because they would be – they would be cursing me.’
AWX was ordered to pay Mr Baig $921,083 and Teys Australia $964,254.11, most of which was for loss of past and future earnings.