The High Court in 2017 will hear the appeal of employers against the right of gold miners or widows to claim silicosis mining compensation in a class action.
The case potentially involves claims for occupational health damages against 30 employers, by up to 500 000 former gold miners or widows of gold miners who had died from silicosis and related occupational diseases, to a potential total of R40-b in civil occupational health compensation.
The Court has allowed the appeal against all aspects of the 2016 ruling (see earlier reports on Sheqafrica.com). The current ruling indicates that statutory compensation, via the centralised insurer, is insufficient, and should not shield employers against further civil claims (see the full ruling on the initial claim by 93 mineworkers, at http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZAGPJHC/2016/97.html).
Sonke Gender Justice NGO said silica exposure is “easily prevented by controlling the spread of silica dust with ventilation, and providing protective equipment and clothing”.
Sonke and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), an HIV/AIDS body, represented by the law body Section21, are among the advisory bodies accepted by the court.
Silicosis is caused by inhaling silica dust, scarring and stiffening lungs, and increasing vulnerability to infections like pulmonary tuberculosis (TB).
Gold mining employers have pooled their resources to respond to the ruling, and to claims. The process could take several years.
The DMR Mine Health and Safety Inspectorate said about 120 000 workers in gold mines today are protected by occupational health and safety regulations since 2008, which enforce silica levels within safe limits.
The NGO further said that working conditions, and collusion between mining employer and colonial governments to enforce a range of laws and taxes, have driven workers to the mines.
Women and girls were required by law to stay in rural areas, to subsist, and to care for the men who returned, often desperately ill with pulmonary disease.
Thabang Pooe, policy and advocacy official at Sonke, said mining employers have “also benefited from the unseen and undervalued parallel work of women and children in labour-sending areas,” in rural areas and SADC countries.
Some miners and widows celebrated outside the high court in Johannesburg earlier this year, after a judge allowed silicosis sufferers to launch a class action lawsuit against mining companies.
Earlier, the potential for sick miners to claim compensation was raised five years ago, when South Africa’s constitutional court ruled that former miner and silicosis sufferer Thembekile Mankayi may sue Anglo Gold Ashanti for loss of wages, damages, and medical expenses (see earlier posts on Sheqafrica.com).
The case set a critical precedent, allowing human rights lawyers to subsequently petition the courts to allow a class action against the gold mining industry as a whole.
In May, the court had amended common law to allow general damages to be transmitted to wives and dependents of miners who die during litigation (as in the case of Mankayi).
Transmissibility of damages now may allow widows to join the class action.
Sonke gave evidence on the gender-based impacts of silicosis, particularly financial, emotional and physical burdens of women and girls who sacrificed their income and education.
Sonke’s executive director Dean Peacock had argued that “the mining industry has effectively displaced its responsibility for taking care of sick miners, to women in rural labour-sending areas, where there is often no access to running water, and limited transportation to get to healthcare services.”
- Sources: News Deeply. Sonke Gender Justice. SAFLII.
- See the full ruling of 2016, which is being appealed by gold mining employers, at: http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZAGPJHC/2016/97.html