So. Africa: Court allows silicosis & tuberculosis class action lawsuits against gold mining companies

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Article
13 May 2016

Analysis: Judgment day for silicosis class action application

Author: Greg Nicolson, Daily Maverick (So. Africa)

In courtroom 11E this morning, judges of the South Gauteng High Court will announce their decision on whether to certify the class action, Bongani Nkala and 55 Others v Harmony Gold Mining Company Ltd and 31 Others. Essentially, it will decide whether hundreds of thousands of gold miners and their families can together sue gold mining companies for damages after contracting silicosis and tuberculosis through work.

If the judges decide the class action can proceed, it will be the biggest class action ever certified in South Africa and could lead to a level of justice for miners whose health was allegedly put at risk for decades despite the industry's knowledge of how to reduce the likelihood of inhaling silica dust…

The case is both about compensation and justice.

Those trying to push for compensation through a class action…believe 32 gold mining companies are liable for failing to protect employees…

“While the mining companies will defend the legal claims made against them, protracted litigation is not in the interests of any of the parties. One part of the proposed solution would be to establish a legacy fund that will supplement the statutory compensation to which mineworkers who have contracted silicosis are entitled from the state, and which some have already received,” said a recent statement from six leaders of mining companies involved in the case…

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Article
13 May 2016

Silicosis Sufferers Deserve Justice Now

Author: Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA)

The decision by the High Court in South Africa on 13 May that a class action representing 30,000 ex- gold miners suffering from silicosis can go ahead is very welcome. It should lead to an industry wide compensation scheme for all with silicosis...

“Silicosis sufferers need and deserve justice now, I urge the mining companies not to seek to drag out the process. Many of those with silicosis also have TB and their health is deteriorating. If justice is further delayed it will be denied to many with silicosis as they will die before there is a settlement. The mining companies will be judged not by their words but by their actions.

“It is a scandal that workers were not better protected from the silica dust.  It is an outrage those with silicosis have had to take legal action to try and achieve what the mining companies should have provided many years ago, decent health care and compensation for all those with silicosis.”[said Tony Dykes, Director of ACTSA]

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Article
13 May 2016

South African court allows silicosis class action suit against gold firms

Author: TJ Strydom & Zimasa Mpemnyama, Reuters

South Africa's High Court on Friday gave the green light for a class action suit seeking damages from the gold mining sector on behalf of thousands of miners who contracted the fatal lung disease silicosis while working underground.

The court also allowed a class action to go ahead on behalf of miners who contracted tuberculosis in the mines…

The defendants in the case include Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, AngloGold Ashanti, Sibanye Gold, African Rainbow Minerals (ARM) and Anglo American, which have formed the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) Working Group to deal with such issues.

The suits, which have little precedent in South African law, have their roots in a landmark 2011 ruling by the Constitutional Court that for the first time allowed lung-diseased miners to sue their employers for damages…

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Article
14 May 2016

Gold Fields : Hausfeld Announces Class Action Certified for South African Gold Miners in Landmark Case

Author: GlobeNewswire

The South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg has certified the first class action in South African history for sick workers, allowing gold miners suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis to proceed with their claims against 30 gold producers, including AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Gold Fields, Anglo American, and African Rainbow Minerals...

...The defendants argued vehemently against inclusion of the tuberculosis class, but Abrahams and Hausfeld presented strong medical evidence to support their inclusion, which the court endorsed. Certifying the class means that the litigation can seek compensation for the miners as a group in a more efficient and streamlined manner than if the miners had to bring thousands of individual actions...

This decision by the High Court is a crucial step in the path to justice for potentially hundreds of thousands of mine workers and the families of deceased mine workers who contracted silicosis and tuberculosis due to their employment in poorly maintained working environments of the gold mining industry of South Africa, said Charles Abrahams. We continue to believe it is the only feasible method for sick gold mine workers to have access to justice.

The opinion explicitly and robustly recognizes that the class action legal tool is most needed and most appropriate when the poor and underprivileged seek justice against institutions in society they could never challenge on their own, said Richard Lewis of Hausfeld...

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Article
23 May 2016

Charles Abrahams, silicosis attorney: ‘Someone has to bat for the underdogs’

Author: Greg Nicolson, Daily Maverick (So. Africa)

Sitting in the foyer of the Radisson Blu, Charles Abrahams looked past the hotel pool towards a Sandton construction site. Downstairs, delegates were meeting to discuss compensating mineworkers for occupational diseases, an issue Abrahams has worked to bring to the fore. “You grow up in a world where the more money and power you have the more human you become – that’s how I grew up…,” said the attorney, who has built a reputation for taking on corporates who have avoided legal accountability, before and after 1994…Throughout our conversation, Abrahams often mentioned “principle politics”, which defines his sense of justice, values and career focus. He’s an expert on how South Africa’s transition to democracy let corporates who were explicitly or implicitly supporting the apartheid regime avoid accountability. 

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Article
3 June 2016

South African mining firms to appeal silicosis ruling

Author: TJ Strydom & Wendell Roelf, Reuters

South African gold mining firms plan to appeal against a High Court ruling that allowed class action suits seeking damages for up to half a million miners who contracted the fatal lung disease silicosis and tuberculosis, they said on Friday.

A High Court decision last month set the stage for protracted proceedings covering cases dating back decades in the largest class action suits yet in Africa's most industrialized country.

Anglo American, Africa's top gold producer AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Gold and African Rainbow Minerals, have formed the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) group to deal with such issues.

The group confirmed that the companies had filed individual applications to appeal the class certification judgment handed down on May 13, adding that the firms have been seeking a settlement with the affected workers.

"Whilst the companies deny liability for the claims, it is nonetheless the working group’s view that a fair and sustainable settlement is preferable to long and protracted litigation," the OLD said in a statement…

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Article
7 June 2016

Silicosis and TB: Mining companies should stop appealing and start negotiating

Author: Action for South Africa (ACTSA)

The news that the mining companies will appeal against the decision of the High Court in South Africa on 13 May 2016 to certify (i.e. allow to proceed) the class action on behalf of 30,000 current and ex-gold miners with silicosis and TB is deeply disappointing. ACTSA called on the mining companies when the High Court decision was announced not to appeal but to meet urgently with the representatives of the miners and ex-miners with silicosis and TB to agree a settlement which provides decent health care and compensation.

...The mining companies say they want a settlement and not protracted litigation yet it is they who have decided to appeal. The obvious conclusion is that the mining companies are involved in tactics to delay any settlement and for compensation eventually agreed to be at a low amount. Justice delayed is justice denied as many of those with silicosis and TB are becoming elderly and increasingly ill. They may die before a settlement is reached...

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Article
20 October 2016

So. Africa: NGO says Women's "invisible" labour in sustaining mining labour force in communities affected by silicosis hardly recognised

Author: Tanya Charles, Sonke Gender Justice, in GroundUp (South Africa)

"Silicosis case: thousands of women could lose out", 20 Oct 2016

In the pending lawsuit against South Africa’s entire gold mining industry, thousands of women stand to lose out on the compensation due to the dependants of deceased miners because the care work they have done to sustain the mining labour force is invisible...South Africa’s gold mining industry has always profited from the deadly toil of black mine workers. What is seldom discussed is how they have also benefited from the unseen and undervalued parallel work of the women and children in labour-sending communities where mineworkers come from...Sonke Gender Justice is entering the second phase of research aimed at making visible the burden that rural women have had to shoulder because the industry has failed in its duty not only to prevent miners from exposure to the silica dust that causes silicosis, but also to provide adequate medical care after they have become sick...

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Article
5 June 2017

NGO calls for justice for southern Africa mineworkers affected by silicosis and tuberculosis

Author: Action for Southern Africa (United Kingdom)

Anglo American South Africa (AASA) was the largest and longest established gold mining company in South Africa throughout the 20th century, operating 12 mines within its group. AASA is a wholly owned subsidiary of global mining giant Anglo American plc...The company is no longer involved in gold mining but it is a major producer of diamonds, platinum, iron ore and thermal coal. The most significant of the other companies who are (or have been historically) involved in gold mining in South Africa are: African Rainbow Minerals; AngloGold Ashanti; Gold Fields; Harmony; and Sibanye Gold...The South African mining industry had an appalling safety record: approximately 69,000 mineworkers died in accidents between 1900 and 1993, and more than 1 million were seriously injured Mineworkers with chronic silicosis are unable to continue working. They and their families are often left destitute and have very limited or no access to screening and medical facilities, especially in rural areas, where most former mineworkers live. The gold mining companies have long proposed to help identify those ex-mineworkers across Southern Africa who are eligible to claim compensation for illness – but they have not yet done so. This is typical of the way in which the gold mining industry has failed to live up to its responsibilities towards its former employees.

ACTSA [Action for Southern Africa] demands that the mining companies which profited from South Africa’s gold urgently provide proper medical screening, decent financial compensation and healthcare, and adequate support for all ex- and current mineworkers suffering from silicosis and TB...

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Article
11 December 2017

So. Africa: Lawyer representing 30 000 mineworkers in silicosis case says deal with mines most likely final by end of 2017

Author: Pete Lewis, GroundUp (South Africa)

"Silicosis: we’re close to a deal with the mines, says miners’ attorney", 11 Dec 2017

Upwards of 100,000 mineworkers and former mineworkers, and their dependents, are claiming damages for contracting silicosis and/or TB from exposure to dust underground. The class action has been certified for trial by the South Gauteng High Court. Richard Spoor, who represents the mineworkers, told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources that he was “reasonably confident” that the two-year negotiation over a settlement of the class action litigation would be concluded before the end of 2017...Spoor told the committee it was urgent to reach a compromise because mineworkers were dying. He said about 4% of the 30,000 mineworkers who started the class action had died each year since 2006, when the litigation started...

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