Taliban fighters seen near Kabul Thursday, Oct. 3, 1996. The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist army, took over Kabul and drove out forces loyal to President Burhanuddin Rabbani a week ago. Taliban forces now control most of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Hurriyet)
Taliban fighters seen near Kabul Thursday, Oct. 3, 1996. The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist army, took over Kabul and drove out forces loyal to President Burhanuddin Rabbani a week ago. Taliban forces now control most of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Hurriyet)

From Taliban atrocity to $1m injury payout

AS A child, Rahmatullah Baig watched the Taliban execute his aunt and uncle.

This horrific event marked the start of a fight for survival that would eventually lead Mr Baig through several countries seeking a new life in Australia.

Not long after starting work in Rockhampton, Mr Baig was left fighting a whole new battle all the way to the Supreme Court of Queensland.

The unsettling details of Mr Baig's life fleeing persecution with his family in Afghanistan were detailed by Justice Duncan McMeekin as he delivered a judgment on December 20 awarding the Rockhampton man over $960,000 in damages for a workplace injury.

Justice McMeekin said Mr Baig's tumultuous background was crucial to understanding his judgment.

Mr Baig was born in Afghanistan, but his family fled to Pakistan when he was a small child after witnessing the Taliban execute members of the family.

He still does not know his age, but believed he was educated in Pakistan for five to six years and may have been about 13 when he finished school.

Mr Baig worked throughout his schooling and afterward.

In 2007, he moved to Iran and found work as a tiler.

In the words of Justice McMeekin, Mr Baig's journey to Australia was "a long one".

He travelled from Quetta to Karachi in Pakistan, to Malaysia, to Indonesia and spent six or seven days at sea heading to Christmas Island when he was picked up by the Australian Navy.

Because Mr Baig had no known birth date when he arrived in Australia in 2009, he was given a birthday on arrival of January 1, 1991.

He had poor English skills and spent about 10 weeks in a Perth detention centre.

He was attending a high school, but wanted employment.

A friend suggested Rockhampton, where Mr Baig found a job with Teys Australia Central Queensland Pty Ltd in May 2010.

He was employed on a labour hire contract with AWX Pty Ltd, who was also a defendant in the injury claim.

Mr Baig started work in the paunch room, where he had to remove part of the stomach of the animal from the paunch before passing the carcass to the next man along the line.

He was the second man in the line and was given the paunch by the first, whose task was to place the paunch onto a hook to facilitate slicing.

The hooks ran along two chains which operated at a constant speed.

According to the judgment, Mr Baig was expected to deal with every paunch, on both chains which were some distance apart.

While the chains operated at a constant speed the rate at which paunches could come to him did not.

That depended on how many paunches could be hooked, but given 1603 beasts were slaughtered a day and the hours he worked, Justice McMeekin concluded he would be dealing with a paunch roughly every 20 seconds.

On July 5, 2010 Mr Baig was processing bulls and the room was working at speed when he was slowed and the chain pulled the paunch away from him.

As he reached for it to finish the job, Mr Baig claimed he felt immediate pain in his back and buttock.

Subsequent investigations showed a prolapsed disc.

Justice McMeekin noted several inconsistencies and instances of evasion in Mr Baig's evidence during the trial in November 2017.

However, he said Mr Baig's poor English and lack of understanding around Australian practices may be the reason for this.

"When it is said that his conduct was discreditable I see no reason to think that it was from his perspective," Justice McMeekin said.

"I am not sure that many Australian-born workers would necessarily act as the defendants urged 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."

Justice McMeekin accepted the facts of the incident as claimed by Mr Baig and a connection between that and the disc prolapse.

He ordered $964,254.11 damages be paid to Mr Baig by AWX Pty Ltd and Teys Australia.


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