Human rights lawyers have been engaged for ten years in a bid to secure massive damages for former gold miners who suffer from silicosis and TB. As the case heads for the courts, the mining industry is scrambling to offer its own and much less comprehensive solution.
Too sick to work, cared for by women and families who can barely scratch a living, hundreds of thousands of former gold miners number among the disabled, dying and dead victims of an inadequate compensation system.
This issue, brushed under the carpet during the apartheid era, has become public after 20 years of democracy, against all efforts by the mining companies to keep it buried.
Over the past century, South Africa developed a legislated system for the compensation of workers who are injured at work, or who contract an occupational disease, in line with conventions developed over time by the International Labour Organisation.
Such systems are supposed to provide workers (and their dependent spouses and children) with a lump sum or pension for permanent disability, and lost wages for temporary disability. They are also supposed to cover medical costs of treatment, care, and rehabilitation.
The compensation is paid from a fund fed by a levy on employers who are required by law to pay contributions based on their wage bill.
Former miners suffering from silicosis and TB as a result of their work on the gold mines have launched a claim for damages.
The law prescribes how claims must be lodged; what documentation must be included; what occupational diseases are recognised; how “impairment” is categorised to determine payouts; and sets out an appeals procedure.
The system indemnifies employers against civil suit for damages by individuals or groups of injured or sick workers.
Administration and adjudication is supposed to be independent of workers and employers, and the State has fiduciary responsibility for the funds. The fund must be able to meet present and future costs of compensation to workers and their dependants, and its officers are accountable to Parliament and to the executive branch of government.
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