By Tshegofatso Mathe for the Mail & Guardian
The R5-billion silicosis settlement approved by the Johannesburg high court last week Friday is not a finite amount and can increase depending on the number of claims received, attorneys involved in the case said on Monday at a media briefing at Sunnyside Park Hotel in Parktown.
“A lot of settlements are often about the amount without knowing how many claims there may be. This is different because it is not about the amount, it is about the settlement amount per claimant — so that means its open-ended — because we are not sure how many claims there are,” said Graham Briggs, chair of the Occupational Lung Diseases (OLD) working group.
The case spans from 2012 when Richard Spoor Attorneys, Abrahams Kiewitz incorporated and the Legal Resource Centre brought a class action against a number of gold mining companies to get compensation for goldmine workers exposed to silica dust and who got sick from either silicosis or tuberculosis
The settlement will give current and ex gold mineworkers an opportunity to receive a medical examination and much-needed compensation for those eligible claimants suffering from silicosis, the lawyers said.
This means goldmine workers, or their dependants, if the mineworker has passed away, might be eligible for compensation if the mineworker suffered from silicosis or certain types of tuberculosis contracted at work at certain gold mines any time after March 12 1965.
Miners affected are eligible to get R10 000 to R500 000, depending on the nature and the severity of the disease.
“There is no maximum and there is also no minimum — so the guarantees of R5-billion are regarded by both sides as being the reasonable estimate of what the ultimate liability might be,” said Micheal Murray of the OLD working group.
“So it’s possible that it could be more than that and possible that it could be less than that, but anything above that, the companies will remain liable for that [the amount]”.
Six gold miners African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye-Stillwaters along with the claimants’ attorneys will set up the Tshiamiso trust which will make sure qualifying miners get compensation.
Briggs said conditions for curbing silicosis on the mines have improved in recent years. He says for many years it has been a problem to deal with silicosis because of the way dust is liberated differs from mine to mine.
Briggs said some dust gets released through a scraping process, others through ventilation or blasting.
He says once this was understood, miners were able to locate and prevent dust build-up.
“The prevention now is different from one mine to the other, based on the factual scientific evidence they have received,” he added. NW