Monday, June 20, 2016

South African miners have new hope

A South African judge said human rights lawyers could launch an unprecedented “class action” that, if successful, would force more than 30 mine companies to pay compensation to everyone they have employed since 1965 who has had silicosis. In a major breakthrough for campaigners, it would also mean payouts to relatives of former miners affected by the disease who have already died. The total sum could be billions. Former miners with silicosis and other diseases have long been entitled to limited compensation from a government-administered fund, to which some mining companies make a contribution. However, the sums are limited, there is a huge backlog of claims and relatives of miners who have already died receive nothing.

Lawyers acting for the miners say the dangers from silica-laden dust were raised a century ago as the great South African mining boom got under way. A solution – blowing vast quantities of chilled air through the mines and masks – was also known, but only began to be implemented recently.

Georgina Jephson of Richard Spoor Inc, one of the law firms behind the class action, said: “The apartheid government effectively facilitated the whole system through the provision of cheap and expendable black labour. There have always been very good and strict laws about health and safety underground, but these were not enforced, certainly not under apartheid and only haphazardly since. Mining is a very powerful industry and [it has been] in the government’s interest to allow it to prosper. Johannesburg would not be here if not for mining and our country was built on mining, but at massive expense in human life.”

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