||Issue No. 229||16 July 2004|
The Sins of Our Fathers
Interview: Power and the Passion
Unions: Tackling the Heavy Hitters
Industrial: Seeing the Forest For The Wood
Housing: Home Truths
International: Boycott Busters
Economics: Ideology and Free Trade
History: Long Shadow of a Forgotten Man
Review: Chewing the Fat
Poetry: Dear John
The Locker Room
Noose Tightens on James Hardie
The IMF (International Metalworkers Federation) is expected to help block escape routes for the one-time blue chip by lobbying Governments in Europe and the US to negotiate legal treaties with Australia.
An IMF meeting in Geneva is considering AMWU proposals to mount pressure on the Governments of the Netherlands and the US state of Delaware for formal treaties that would oblige James Hardie to meet its debts to tens of thousands of Australians dying from asbestos-related lung diseases.
The move is part of a multi-faceted union response to James Hardie's bid to have the NSW Government introduce a statutory scheme that would limit its liabilities by slashing payments to asbestos disease sufferers and surviving family members.
James Hardie floated the proposal, essentially a re-run of last year's unsuccessful move to allow asbestos producers to keep their profits while socialising their losses, this week.
It came in the company's formal response at the Jackson Inquiry that had heard evidence it told the NSW Supreme Court, at the time of its relocation to the Netherlands, it would leave $1.9 worth of assets in Australia for the benefit of creditors.
Less than 18 months later, at a secret board meeting, James Hardie cancelled that arrangement without informing the court, the stock market or asbestos sufferers.
Treaties with the Netherlands and Delaware, where the company is also registered, are just one element of a campaign that will also include consumer boycotts and possible workplace bans.
NSW unions will also join state Labor's Left Caucus members in lobbying to ensure the Carr Government does not accede to a proposal that would slash compensation payments and transfer some of the cost onto taxpayers
Labor Council unanimously supported a five-point action plan from the AMWU and CFMEU after hearing an impassioned plea from dying Sydney man, Bernie Banton.
"I implore you people to stop them getting away with this," Banton told delegates.
"It's people like me and my family that are suffering every day because people at James Hardie have no morality," he said.
"James Hardie knew for years that its asbestos was killing people. They promised the court they would leave behind $1.9 billion for sufferers then, by stealth, they turned around and robbed us.
"These people have lied to the Commission, lied to their shareholders and lied to the court. They can't be trusted."
AMWU national secretary, Doug Cameron, said the move to head James Hardie off at the international pass was serious.
"Through our international ties, the AMWU will use every possible pressure point to ensure this company does not get away with this corporate jail break," Cameron said.
"The behaviour of James Hardie towards Australian victims of asbestos disease is reprehensible and demands, local, national and international responses to ensure it meets its legal and moral obligations."
The Inquiry into James Hardie's behaviour, headed by David Jackson, QC, is expected to report to the NSW Government in September.
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