R5bn silicosis payout could increase with inflation, more claims - attorney

The R5bn silicosis settlement, approved in a landmark ruling by the Gauteng High Court last week, is the minimum guaranteed amount payable by the six companies involved, but their liability remains infinite – and the compensation values will rise in line with inflation each year.

This is according to attorney Michael Murray on behalf of the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) working group. OLD and legal representatives for miners held a press conference in Parktown on Monday following the court's ruling in Johannesburg on Friday.

The six mining companies who formed part of the class action agreement are African Rainbow Minerals‚ Anglo American SA‚ AngloGold Ashanti‚ Gold Fields‚ Harmony and Sibanye Stillwater, and they will pay from R10 000 to R500 000, depending on the type of claim for workers who were on the mines from 1965.

Dependents of deceased miners who suffered from silicosis and TB will also be able to claim.

Silicosis is a disease affecting the elasticity of the lungs and is prevalent in several industries where dust occurs, including gold. The gold companies who were party to this settlement admit they did not do enough to protect workers underground.

Carina du Toit of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) said their involvement in the case was largely with the families, who had expressed satisfaction with the settlement agreement.

There will now be extensive publication of notices around mining communities for the next four weeks advising people of their options if they would like to opt out of the settlement terms. Miners will then have another 60 days to fill in the necessary forms if they want to sue the companies individually.

Murray said funds were expected to start flowing into eligible miners’ bank accounts from early 2020.

Mammoth task

The disbursement of the R5bn will be done by the Tshiamiso Trust, with R845m for extensive administrative duties. Former chief inspector of mines and academic May Hermanus has been appointed as chairperson.

"The trustees have a mammoth task ahead of them and this will last for the next 12 years. I wish them all the strength," said Graham Briggs, convener of the OLD working group.

Meanwhile miners suffering from lung diseases, as well as their dependents, have been warned against "unscrupulous people" who ask them for payment to access their compensation.

Charmane Russel of R&A Communications, for the parties involved in the settlement, said it was necessary to spread the message that eligible miners would be medically examined and have their employment verified free of charge.

Attorney Charles Abrahams said the trust will need to locate and screen miners suffering from silicosis or Tuberculosis across South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia.

The class action settlement follows attempts by individual miners to hold gold companies accountable, and has taken 15 years.

"It is the culmination of more than just the litigious process. It is one where we've seen litigious will, business will, civil society and political will come together and make this work," Abrahams said.

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