Fletchers, James Hardie Must Compensate Victims
Barrister and Solicitor, Wellington.
Friday April 28 2006
Fletchers and James Hardie Must Compensate Their Victims
New Zealand's failure to compensate the victims of asbestos means those responsible - Fletcher's, James Hardie and the Government - are shirking their responsibilities, says Hazel Armstrong, a lawyer who represents victims of asbestos disease, who was speaking at a Workers Memorial Day event in Wellington today.
About 150 New Zealanders are expected to die from asbestos-related diseases each year for the next 20-30 years.
In Australia, asbestos victims are receiving state-subsidised compensation from James Hardie of about $250,000 per person.
"I support the Council of Trade Unions campaign launched today to demand lump sum payments for asbestos victims," said Hazel Armstrong. "These men are suffering long, slow painful deaths. As one widow put it, 'you wouldn't want anybody, even your worst enemy, to die of this disease'," Ms Armstrong said.
"It is horrific for children and grandchildren to see their loved ones dies like this - when the only thing their fathers and grandfathers did wrong was to go out and do a day's work. What message does it send to today's employees about how we will value their contribution?"
Asbestos was used in building materials and insulation in New Zealand from the 1930s to 1991. Fletcher's and James Hardie were the major importers and manufacturers of asbestos products in New Zealand during that time. Since the 1960s, health scientists and government agencies have been aware of the dangers of asbestos.
After legal action was taken, compensation payments of $100,000 each were paid to 26 asbestos victims by ACC in the early 2000s. But on appeal, ACC challenged this requirement to pay and won. Because of the ACC scheme, victims have no right to sue the companies responsible for their asbestos exposure. Unions and victims are continuing the legal battle for ACC compensation.
Ms Armstrong said it is reprehensible to let people continue to die in this way, through no fault of their own, and for them to be powerless to obtain redress.
"The Government needs to amend the ACC legislation so that lump sum payments, totaling about $15 million a year for a limited period, can be made.
"If the government believes it is unacceptable for current employers to pay for this through increased ACC levies, then they can require Fletchers and James Hardie to set up a dedication fund to compensate victims - as happened in Australia.
Why should those responsible be made to pay in Australia - but not in New Zealand?