Wage negotiations may have concluded but South Africa’s gold sector still faces a number of challenges, not least of which is a looming class action suit.
GRONINGEN (MINEWEB) – Having only barely dispensed with the plummeting gold price, increasingly demanding shareholders and some of the tensest wage negotiations in memory, the South Africa’s gold producers were probably hoping for a little respite. But, instead, find themselves staring at the looming presence of a silicosis class action suit that seems to be growing inexorably larger with each passing month.
Right now, there are three separate class action matters pending against the country’s gold miners but, the three teams of lawyers have just applied to the courts to consolidate these various claims into a single one that will be defended by 31 companies, which include all of the country’s gold miners and their various operating entities as well as Anglo American South Africa and African Rainbow Minerals, who no longer operate gold mines but did so when some of the claimants contracted the lung disease in question.
It should be noted that Anglo American SA announced yesterday it has just settled 23 silicosis claims brought against it for an undisclosed sum and no admission of liability. These claims are completely unrelated to the class action matters mentioned earlier and have been ongoing for almost 10 years.
According to Anglo American, “Considering the long-standing nature of the SA arbitration claims, all parties agreed that the time was right to reach a settlement agreement that is in the interests of all stakeholders involved.”
While the firm maintains that the decision to settle was made for the benefit of the claimants and credit must be given to the firm for providing medical treatment to the plaintiffs, while the claims were being considered, one can’t help but wonder (albeit a little cynically) if there is not at least a hint of a clearing of the legal decks to the settlement, ahead of what Anglo itself admits is a much more complicated set of claims?
As Anglo American spokesman, Pranill Ramchander told Mineweb, “AASA, along with many other companies, is now facing class action litigation ostensibly involving several thousand claimants. This litigation is far more complex and is concerned with issues which go far beyond the scope of the stand-alone claims. The company has not been informed of the names of those involved or where they worked or the nature of their medical condition. As a result, AASA will continue to defend these claims, which are wholly unrelated to the arbitration claims.”
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