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Dying asbestos victims robbed by stingy Government

10 February 2005

Dying asbestos victims robbed by stingy Government

The Greens are outraged that the Government is challenging a District Court decision that Kiwis dying of asbestos-related diseases are entitled to lump sum payments from ACC.

"Why is the Government being so mean-spirited as to challenge the compensation awarded to New Zealanders so sick from diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis that they find it difficult to breathe?" asked Sue Kedgley, Green Health Spokesperson.

"The Government's appeal to the High Court is obscene. It should drop it immediately and ensure that ACC provides a service for which it was set up - to help those who have been grievously harmed as a consequence of their workplace."

To add injustice to injury, Australian former employees of James Hardie Industries - whose South Auckland asbestos factory was the workplace of those New Zealanders now dying - have been awarded an average of $272,000 in an out-of-court settlement.

Green ACC Spokesperson Sue Bradford said this substantial payment recognised the dire situation of those exposed to asbestos in the workplace and made a mockery of the $68.77-a-week ACC "independence allowance", which is all New Zealand sufferers will be entitled to if the Government's appeal is successful.

"It seems that ACC is baulking at paying out adequate compensation for simple financial reasons. This stingy government is putting ACC's bottom line ahead of the wellbeing of sick Kiwi workers."

Ms Kedgley and Ms Bradford are challenging ACC Minister Ruth Dyson in the House this afternoon to justify her agency's mean-spirited actions.

"The question is, Does ACC really believe the District Court's decision is unfair or are they just trying to avoid having to pay unbudgeted expenses?" asked Ms Kedgley.

The Government's financial statements claim that ACC will be "vigorously defending" itself from the claims of these dying Kiwis. The statements also refer to the potential for "substantial future liability" should ACC lose its High Court appeal.

"We can only infer that these two issues are linked: that ACC is objecting to the claims of these very sick New Zealanders because they're worried about having to pay out in future cases similar to this one," Ms Kedgley said. "It is very concerning that a government agency would put money ahead of both justice and the wellbeing of sick New Zealanders."

Ms Bradford, also the Green Employment Spokesperson, said the implications of the Government's actions were even worse in light of the fact that, if the Government appeal is successful, New Zealand will no longer meet minimum standards required by the International Labour Organisation.

"New Zealand ratified ILO Convention 42 in 1938. It's deeply disappointing that this Government is willing to flout international law and undermine the rights of sick workers just to save a buck."

ENDS

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