The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has revealed it would consider launching a new campaign forcing James Hardie Industries to pay compensation to victims of asbestos-related diseases.
Building materials firm James Hardie has faced an increasing number of mesothelioma claims over the last three decades, with workers and their families previously exposed to asbestos through the company’s old product lines.
In 2006, the organisation formed an agreement with the NSW government to set up the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund (AICF), which would receive, assess and potentially pay out money for claims.
The fund receives 35 per cent of James Hardie’s free operating cash flow each year, however, the company recently admitted there has still been a cash shortfall. This is largely due to a marked increase in mesothelioma claims over the last couple of years.
ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver told The Australian that he will be meeting with the firm’s representatives next week to ensure claimants are not forgotten.
“The union movement has run a significant campaign on this issue … James Hardie should not be under any illusion we would hesitate to do so again,” he stated.
“It is deeply concerning that the AICF is facing a shortfall in funding … at a time when James Hardie has paid out US$556 million in dividends over the past two years.”
Making mesothelioma claims
The AICF has typically been able to cover its costs using the cashflow from James Hardie. However, the fund does have access to a loan facility set up by the NSW government and co-financed by the Commonwealth.
James Hardie has now asked for a $100 million raise in the facility, bringing it to $320 million. The AICF said if the additional money is denied, the fund will make an application to the Supreme Court to pay future claimants in instalments.
The Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia (ADFA) described the idea of incremental payments as a “slap in the face to victims”.
“Asbestos victims don’t die in instalments, they don’t lose the ability work or care for themselves in instalments, yet James Hardie wants to see them compensated in that way,” said ADFA President Barry Robson in a media release last month.
“James Hardie spent decades knowingly selling these deadly products that to this day are still found in millions of homes and workplaces around Australia.”
He added that compensation is vital for victims of asbestos-related diseases because they are especially devastating and typically require extensive and costly medical care.