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Asbestos Compensation: Unions Call on James Hardie

Asbestos Compensation: Global Unions Call on James Hardie Company to Meet Liabilities

Brussels, 16th September 2004 (ICFTU Online): Global trade union organisations are stepping up international pressure on the Australian building supplies company James Hardie to compensate thousands of victims of asbestos diseases caused by the company's products. The international action follows public rallies across Australia on 15th September 2004 when over 20,000 demonstrators called on the company to provide full compensation to those afflicted by mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases following exposure to Hardie products.

In a letter to company Chairperson Meredith Hellicar http://www.icftu.org/displaydocument.asp?Index=991220546&Language=EN, ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder criticized James Hardie's decision to move its registration to the Netherlands as a corporate manoeuvre to escape paying full compensation, by profiting from the absence of civil liability treaty arrangements between the Netherlands and Australia. The company set up in Holland in 2001, moving some A$1.9bn abroad, out of reach of claimants. Only around A$250m, a fraction of the total liability, was left in an Australian compensation fund. Ryder called on the company "to act without any further delay to ensure that the victims have full access to compensation, and cease the ongoing manoeuvres aimed at denying them justice".

Trade union representatives will attend an Annual General Meeting of the Dutch James Hardie NV near Amsterdam on 17 September, and joint initiatives between Australian and Dutch unions are being planned to ensure justice for the victims. Marcello Malentacchi, General Secretary of the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF), one of the organisations spearheading the international campaign, said he was "shocked that James Hardie puts such greed for profits above the health and lives of its workers and the users of its asbestos products". A full overview of the facts surrounding the case is available on the IMF website at http://www.imfmetal.org.

Details of a campaign on James Hardie by the international building and woodworkers' federation IFBWW can also be seen at http://www.ifbww.org/index.cfm?n=44&l=2&c=1278&on=2.

Australia has the highest per capita incidence of mesothelioma in the world. More than 7,500 Australians have been reported as dying from the disease. More than 500 Australians per year currently contract the disease and the peak of its incidence is not expected until about 2010. Up to 18,000 Australians are likely to die from mesothelioma by 2020 and historical figures suggest that for each diagnosed case of mesothelioma there are as many cases of lung cancer and non-malignant asbestos related disease.

The ICFTU represents 148 million workers in 234 affiliated organisations in 152 countries and territories. ICFTU is also a member of Global Unions: http://www.global-unions.org

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