Civil society groups welcome litigation victory for ex-mineworkers suffering from TB
Cape Town, South Africa - The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and the Swaziland Migrant and Mineworkers Association(SWAMMIWA) welcome the announcement of a landmark payout by Anglo American South Africa (AASA) to 23 former mine workers who were suing the company for failing to provide protection from dangerous levels of dust created by deep-level gold mining, which resulted in them acquiring occupational lung diseases, including tuberculosis (TB), while in its employment.
“This legal victory is a major step forwards in the battle for health and social justice for mine workers in southern Africa,” said Lynette Mabote, ARASA’s Advocacy Team Leader. “For years civil society has been calling for broad policy reforms by mining industry and stakeholders in order to address the issue of fair compensation for occupational lung diseases and the dire migrant health challenges that the mining industry is accountable for”.
The victory has sparked a ray of hope for former mine workers in labour-sending countries such as Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique. “The settlement marks an important milestone in recognising the historical suffering and hardship that goes hand in hand with having been a miner in South Africa over the past century and more,” said Benedict Xaba, former Minister for Health, Swaziland. “This agreement is a positive demonstration of the laudable commitment of industry leaders to confront this legacy while also taking important strides to move the fight forward to ensure that being a miner no longer means accepting a disproportionate risk of TB.”
The inadequate management of occupational TB in the South African mining industry coupled by an unequal, ill regulated and disproportionate compensatory system has had a devastating public health impact in South Africa as well as the southern Africa region. The incidence rate of TB in South African gold mines is among the highest in the world - a recent study estimated that 3 to 7 percent of miners in South Africa are becoming ill with TB each year. Further, an estimated one-third of TB infections in the southern Africa region are linked to mining.. “Mining companies do not only have an important role to play in helping resolve these legacy issues, but have to work with government and civil society to end TB, which is an impediment to productivity for companies and also health systems. We need the full engagement of companies to transform the fight against TB” noted Xaba.
In 2008, ARASA launched a regional initiative on TB and migrants in southern Africa. This campaign – which focuses specifically on TB treatment, cross-border referral and lung disease compensation issues – has finally gained political commitment at a regional level with the signing of aDeclaration on TB in the Mining Sector by Heads of State and Government in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) in August 2012.“While, the Declaration as a legal instrument is a welcome step at a regional level, addressing the problems facing the compensation of former mine workers, their families and communities, remains an issue for the attention of the South African government and mining industry,” explained Mabote.
The South African mining industry remains heavily dependent on migrant workers from surrounding countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. Once they contract lung diseases, many mine workers are sent back to their countries. With a lack of proper referral systems to track their access to the appropriate treatment, each migrant worker with TB is believed to spread the disease to an estimated 10 to 15 people in their communities. As a result, Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi, the Minister of Health in South Africa classified South Africa - the main labour receiving country in the region - as the ‘head of the TB snake in SADC’ in 2012. Further, mining has contributed significantly to the creation of more female households in South Africa and most labour-sending countries due to deaths of mine workers from occupational lung disease.
The largest class action suit in the history of South Africa against 30 mining giants was launched by human rights attorney Richard Spoor and his legal team early in 2013 on behalf of 18 000 former miners seeking compensation for occupational lung disease. “This recent settlement has significantly improved the chances for these former miners to experience justice in their lifetime,” said Vama Jele, General Secretary of SWAMMIWA. “Given the outcome of the Leigh Day & Co case, this class action suit has the potential to cripple mining industry giants and we urge them to institute an industry-wide settlement scheme without delay”.
Lynette Mabote: Advocacy Team Leader
Tel: +27 21 422 5463
Mobile: + 27 83 642 0817
Sirka Amaambo: Communications Officer
Tel: +264 61 300381
Mobile: +264 812781245