||Issue No. 210||27 February 2004|
Rock Of Ages
Interview: Trading in Principle
Unions: While We Were Away
Politics: Follow the Leader
Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
History: Worker Control Harco Style
Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
Taking The Piss
Tom Goes Off I
Tom Goes Off II
Siren Sounds on Asbestos "Scam"
NSW Premier Bob Carr bowed to vigorous union campaigning when he announced former federal court judge, David Jackson QC, would head an inquiry to be armed with Royal Commission powers into circumstances surrounding the failure of trusts established by James Hardie to inherit asbestos-related liabilities.
Those mechanisms have been lashed by AMWU secretary Paul Bastian as a "sham", designed to deny compensation to thousands of dying workers and their families.
The controversy goes back to 2001 when a complex reshuffle saw the building materials giant set up, and fund to the tune of $293 million, something it called the Medical Research & Compensation Foundation. That body was to bankroll separate funds, AMABA and AMACA, to which James Hardie transferred liabilities to many of the 40,000 Australians expected to by killed by asbestosis or mesothelioma by 2020.
Shortly afterwards, the parent company completed its reorganisation by relocating, for legal purposes, to the Netherlands.
Bastian called the reshuffle an "act of corporate bastardry", and immediately called on State Government to set up an inquiry.
"First, they tried to sanitise the name of James Hardie from a product responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of workers and, second, they set out to quarantine themselves from any further litigation," he argued.
"We are not going to tolerate that. We will always hold them accountable."
The AMWU said the company knew the effects of asbestos and profited by tens of millions of dollars from continuing production.
NSW Labor Council, the AMWU, MUA, ETU and CFMEU became key players in a campaign to "unmask" what they claimed were the "real" reasons behind the reshuffle. They wrote to James Hardie Industries and politicians, organised rallies and pickets.
Late last year dozens of sufferers of asbestos related illnesses confronted shareholders outside a meeting in Sydney. They had tracked the rescheduled venue after James Hardie switched location from the plush, inner-city hotel it had originally advertised.
The company denied evading its responsibilities. It argued its Medical Research & Compensation Foundation would "manage James Hardie's asbestos liabilities and related litigation, compensate sufferers of asbestos related diseases and fund medical research to find treatments for these diseases".
The issue resurfaced last year when AMWU and MUA officials blew the whistle on lobbying efforts by insurance giant ALLIANZ to move compensation responsibilities to the public purse.
Not long after, it was revealed that the fund established by James Hardie faced an $800 million shortfall and that the parent company had refused to guarantee future liabilities.
James Hardie says its products are responsible for only 15 percent of asbestos claims in Australia but media analysts estimate the total bill, even on today's values, will top $6 billion.
Bastian confirmed this week his union would prepare a submission to the Jackson Inquiry and work closely with both the MUA and Asbestos Diseases Federation of Australia to ensure affected workers are heard.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|