Council hires legal eagle in dump scavenging fight

TOOWOOMBA'S council has hired one of Australia's top lawyers to avoid paying an intellectually disabled man for years of work under an unfair contract.

Clynton Lawrance worked in council dumps for 26 years, opening gates, cleaning and keeping records, at first under the now-defunct Rosalie Shire Council.

For the first five years he worked for no pay, but was afforded scavenging rights.

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His contract was changed in 1998 when he was paid $20 a day - a figure far below that which would normally be afforded a contractor.

Similar conditions continued past 2008, when the newly-formed Toowoomba Regional Council took over control of the region's dumps.

A Centrelink psychologist has found Mr Lawrance to have an IQ of 67 and to be illiterate and innumerate - factors which made him oblivious to the raw deal he was receiving.

An Industrial Court order that council pay Mr Lawrance $215,000 in unpaid wages was overturned on appeal after council hired former Solicitor-General of Queensland Walter Sofronoff.

However, Justice Glenn Martin still deemed the contract unfair. Only the amount of compensation has been brought into question.

Rosemary Creamer, Aden Lawyers director David Riwoe and former council dump worker Clynton Lawrance are taking Toowoomba Regional Council to the Industrial Court over years of unfair pay conditions.
Rosemary Creamer, Aden Lawyers director David Riwoe and former council dump worker Clynton Lawrance are taking Toowoomba Regional Council to the Industrial Court over years of unfair pay conditions. Chris Calcino

Mr Lawrance was unaware he was being duped until the end of his tenure.

"Some of the council fellows - I got to know them well - they told me I was getting ripped off," Mr Lawrance said.

"I can't read or write, but I got letters from council saying what a good job I was doing and everything else. I used to get Rose to help me read them."

He and ex-wife Rosemary Creamer, who remains his best friend, contacted Aden Lawyers director David Riwoe.

"This is one of the fights that you like to have - when there's a person who's been given a tough deal for many, many years," Mr Riwoe said.

"So we're very happy to represent Clynton and try to get a good result. It's just a shame - there's a technicality, of sorts, that says we can't pursue the claim beyond 2008."

Changes to industrial relations laws in 2008 meant local councils were from that date treated as corporations, and could be sued.

It means Mr Lawrance's 20 preceding years of work can not be included in the case.

(from left) Adens Lawyers director David Riwoe, former council dump worker Clynton Lawrance, who is taking Toowoomba Regional Council to the Industrial Court of Queensland over pay conditions, and his best friend Rosemary Creamer. Photo Chris Calcino / The Chronicle
(from left) Adens Lawyers director David Riwoe, former council dump worker Clynton Lawrance, who is taking Toowoomba Regional Council to the Industrial Court of Queensland over pay conditions, and his best friend Rosemary Creamer. Photo Chris Calcino / The Chronicle Chris Calcino

His job was no walk in the park. He recalls being "hit with needles", bashed by irate customers and even having rubbish filled with maggots poured over his head.

"Council never did anything about it," Mr Lawrance said.

"They kicked me around. It's wrong what they're doing now.

"If they had to pay me for 26 years, they'd be paying me a lot of money. But they won't even pay what they owe me for six years."

Mr Lawrance said all of the region's dumps had caretakers, many of whom were on similar contracts - a fact which may explain why council hired one of the country's most expensive lawyers to quash the case.

"Everybody should go see a lawyer and hit them. Why let them get away with it?" Mr Lawrance said.

"Everybody who works expects to get paid what's owing to them, not a kick in the arse."

Mr Lawrance's case will appear again before the Industrial Court in the coming months, though a date has not been set.



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