Economic justice: Making the law work for everyone

My grandfather’s job involved a lot of driving through North Queensland.  In 1960 he was in a serious car accident  at work that left him quadriplegic. The accident turned the whole family’s life upside down. They went from living on a comfortable income to relying entirely on what was then called the ‘invalid’s pension’.

My mother’s experience of my grandfather’s accident – both the emotional trauma and economic stress – made a big impression on me. I know how unfair life can be. An accident, just one moment in a life, can completely change the course of many lives.

Given my family history, I know how important the work that Maurice Blackburn does to help people who have experienced a life-changing injury.

This week Maurice Blackburn is launching a new campaign to fight for economic justice. It’s an extension of what we have been doing every day for 99 years.

Economic justice is as important as ever. We face rising costs of living and poor wage growth. Just making ends meet is a challenge for many Australians.

A major setback like an accident, injury or job loss can push families over the edge financially. An already overwhelming situation can become a catastrophe. Our legal system can play a part in helping individuals and families get back on track, and to take back some control of their lives. The right to compensation, benefits or insurance is crucial, and so is having access to a lawyer who can turn those rights into realities.

At Maurice Blackburn, our “no win, no fee” approach for most cases means every Australian can fight back against negligent companies that prioritise profits over people, and put lives at risk.

Economic justice is about how you are treated when you are injured, but it is also about how you are treated every other day at work. People continue to be exploited by companies who prey on their vulnerabilities. When we launched a series of cases against 7-Eleven and assisted staff with pro bono legal advice, I was struck that there are still companies today who exploit their staff in this way, essentially forcing them to work for free.

That was economic injustice in its purest form, where a profitable company refuses to respect the basic rights of their workers. Unfortunately, I fear we have only scratched the surface on this issue. There are many more companies that fail to treat people fairly, but for the people who suffer, taking them on can seem like a David and Goliath situation.

We see our job as being on the side of the ‘Davids’ in the world, to shift the power away from those who have all the economic power and hold them accountable. That’s why ran on a pro bono case against Crown and Aristocrat, on behalf of former pokies addict Shonica Guy, over what we alleged were poker machines that deliberately mislead players. Shonica had a vulnerability, and Crown and Aristocrat exploited her to make money. Their pursuit of profit cost her deeply and there are many others just like Shonica who have lost a lot at the hands of greedy and exploitative companies.

While the outcome was not what we had hoped for, Her Honour concluded that there was merit in the Regulator, Crown and Aristocrat each examining the information they provide to players. The case also sparked widespread debate about gaming machines in a country that has some of the world’s highest gambling losses per capita.

The case also reinforced my belief that economic injustice can be put right, but it will be a long fight and we have to take it one case at a time. There is not one rule for the wealthy and another for the rest of us: the law can help make our society one that respects economic justice and we want to be part of that fight.

 

TOPIC: Social justice
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