Light at the end of the tunnel for silicosis victims

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Light at the end of the tunnel for silicosis victims

Published Date: 2018-05-04 | Source: Stephen Gunnion | Author: Stephen Gunnion

Light at the end of the tunnel for silicosis victims

In the first class action settlement of its kind in South Africa, mining companies have agreed on compensation for workers who contracted lung diseases on their mines

After a three-year slog, mining companies have reached a settlement with lawyers representing claimants in the silicosis and tuberculosis class action litigation. The deal will see various levels of compensation from workers who contracted silicosis and other lung diseases on the country's mines, including for dependents of those who died as a result.

Richard Spoor Inc, Abrahams Kiewitz Inc and the Legal Resources Centre represented claimants in the negotiations, while the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group represented African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold Mining and Sibanye-Stillwater.

"This is a historic settlement, resulting from three years of extensive negotiations," the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group said in a statement. "The Agreement provides meaningful compensation to all eligible workers suffering from silicoses and/or tuberculosis who worked in these companies' mines from 12 March 1965 to date. This is the very first class action settlement of its kind in South Africa."

By reaching a settlement, the Working Group said claimants would receive compensation and relief for their conditions far quicker than if the class action had entered a lengthy and expensive litigation settlement. However, it said the signing of the relevant documentation did not mean finality had been reached. The settlement is subject to a number of conditions, including High Court approval.

Under the settlement, ten classes of claimants will receive compensation, ranging from R50 000 for workers who worked at a mine of one of the Working Group members for two years and were diagnosed with first degree tuberculosis within a year of working at least one shift at a Working Group mine, to R500 000 for a claimant with a special aggravated medical condition. This category provides relief to a small number of claimants who are suffering from extraordinary disease contusions which exceed most other silicotic claimants.

The Working Group said there was no limit on the number of potential claimants and benefits would increase annually by the extent of the increase in inflation from the third year of operation of the Trust Fund.

Last year, the companies set aside a combined R5 billion as the estimated cost to them of the settlement based on actuarial assessments. The Working Group said due to the steps that still need to be finalised, the Trust Fund where the money will be housed is unlikely to be set up before the third quarter of this year.

"Mining companies have made significant progress in underground dust prevention over the years, but all parties believe that there should be continuing improvement in underground dust management techniques so as to ensure that silicosis and tuberculosis cease to be occupational health risks in South African gold mining," the Working Group said.

African Rainbow Mineral's shares fell 1.8% to R106.20 yesterday, while Anglo American shed 1.2% to R297.70 and AngloGold Ashanti declined 1.9% to R115. Gold Fields and Harmony were the outliers, rising 0.4% to R49.78 and 2% to R26.91 respectively, and Sibanye dropped 1.6% to R11.22.



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