More than 1600 people have signed up within 48 hours to join a class action against Western Australia’s government over the theft of wages from Indigenous workers.

Shine Lawyers lodged the action in the Federal Court on Monday on behalf of workers whose wages were stolen as part of a labour scheme operated under the Native Administration Act 1936 and Native Welfare Act 1963.

Up to 10,000 workers are expected to be directly eligible, as well as a substantial number of their descendants.

WA’s government has indicated it will look to settle the matter, which is being funded by Litigation Lending Services (LLS), outside of court.

Advocates have warned many elderly complainants may not live to see the matter resolved.

The Queensland government last year settled a class action relating to similar unpaid entitlements for $190 million after a three-year battle.

More than 30,000 claimants ultimately came forward, well above the 12,000 initially expected.