Court expands miners' health rights

2011-03-04 10:01

Johannesburg - South Africa's highest court has ordered mining company, AngloGold Ashanti, to compensate the family of a dead mineworker, overturning a law that prohibited mineworkers with lung diseases from claiming compensation.

Thursday's judgment against AngloGold came nearly a week after the death of Thembekile Mankayi, whose lawyer said contracted tuberculosis and breathing problems from 17 years of labour in dust-filled mines.

"Given the singular risks of mining, and its unique historical role in our country's wealth, there is nothing irrational in preserving employees' common-law claims against their employers ..." Justice Sisi Khampepe said in the Constitutional Court ruling.

The decision will allow tens of thousands of mineworkers with lung disease to claim compensation, Mankayi's lawyer Richard Spoor said.

"For the last 100 years, employers have had effective immunity," Spoor said.

"It didn't matter how many people got sick or how many people died - they had no incentive at all to take effective measures to prevent these diseases from occurring."

Spoor said mining companies will now be held accountable for "[inexcusable] and dangerous" conditions in the mines.

Union to file class-action suit

AngloGold Ashanti said in a statement on Thursday that the company is working to improve underground conditions.

They said they hope the ruling will not threaten the viability of the industry as a pillar of South Africa's economy and vital in attracting foreign investment.

South Africa's largest investment in occupational health was researching how to reduce dust in mines, said Jabu Maphalala, a communications adviser for the Chamber of Mines, an industry trade group.

Lesiba Seshoka, spokesperson for South Africa's National Union of Mineworkers, hailed the court ruling as a "huge achievement".

"This is a landmark ruling that set a precedent," Seshoka said. "For many years, miners contracted diseases in mines, and the mining companies fired them with nothing in terms of compensation."

Seshoka said the union would work with miners to compile a register of people who died from and are still suffering with lung disease to file a class-action suit against the mining companies.

  • ir8m8 - 2011-03-04 10:46

    yep, lost 2 uncles, each with over 25 years experience, they are both in the ground because of lung desease, and its true, the mines would fire them on the spot based on a health exam. Let the bastards be held accountable, while we are at it, hold them all accountable for the ACID water issue, right through to the Shareholders themselves, Filthy Rich Fat Cats...

      Howzitekse - 2011-03-04 17:11

      Too little too late. Can you imagine the loss in health and life over the last 100 years, so that a small group of leaches can become super-rich?

  • mariomobster - 2011-03-04 11:36

    Wonder what Mr. Malema will say about this - seems this puts a damper on his drive to nationalize the mines.

  • Derrick - 2011-03-04 12:03

    My only concern is that the judge overlooked the law, that means no matter what the law says the judge can make his own call. However I do agree with the ruling, not paying compensation or penalties is day light robbery. Unprofressional, unethical, etc. I cannot believe the law was passed in the first place!

      Sizwe - 2011-03-04 15:26

      Without getting too academic on the subject, there exists in law; legal principles and rules. The difference in most cases is distinct and need no further explanation, however from time to time the principle and rules clash or create a vacuum. it is through this vacuum or clash that the courts have a right to interpret the law, which is mainly -but not limited to- legislation and common law. The courts have a discretion in interpreting and applying the rules and principles in the vacuum that may exist. Many a time this will be in light of a specific set of facts -which relate to a case before the court- and it tyhrough these facts that precedent is formed or may be amended. In short the judges -The ConCourt is a full-bench court- did not overlook the law but simply interpreted it according to the facts at hand.

  • DeeCS - 2011-03-04 12:11

    Problem comes with where did the workers contract the disease? How much blame will be put on the mining companies for what the workers did and contracted in their private lives eg.TB

      ToffaSaffa - 2011-03-04 12:22

      I agree. Obviously HIV positive people are more susceptible to lung disease (like TB). So does that mean the mine can then make its employees have HIV tests and fire them accordingly. I think there is a catch 22. But I still agree with ir8m8, the mines should pay for these people.

  • postscript6167 - 2011-03-04 12:16

    It was nice of the mining industry to hide behind a brainless law instead of doing the right thing by their employees. they deserve every bit of pain coming their way.

  • Susannomore - 2011-03-04 12:27

    About time. I am a Safety Officer, although not in the mines, but closely affiliated. There is not enough done on the prevention side and companies will find any excuse not to care for the people they have harmed, from injuries to occupational diseases

  • mafura - 2011-03-04 13:43

    I find it extremely sad that NUM spokesperson and Mankayi's lawyer think it is OK to fall ill / die as long as you have been "compensated". How much is your life worth?

  • chantal de pierres - 2011-03-04 14:40

    About time and now how about other dirty industries.

  • Suffere - 2011-03-21 12:21

    1.What is UASA doing for it's members? 2.Is there a support group for people suffering from lung disease that worked on the mines?

  • Suffere - 2011-03-22 00:32

    What is UASA doing for it's members? Is there a support group for ex mine employees currently suffering from lung diseases?

  • Suffere - 2011-03-22 00:35

    What is UASA doing for it's members? Is there a support group for ex mine employees currently suffering from lung diseases?

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