|Issue No. 235
|27 August 2004
Interview: Trading Places
Safety: Snow Job
Politics: In the Vanguard
Unions: Gentle Giant Goes For Gold
Bad Boss: 'Porker' Chases Blue Ribbon
International: Cruising For A Bruising
History: Under the Influence
Economics: Working Capital
Review: Fahrenheit 9/11
Poetry: Bad Intelligence Rap
Satire: Osama Bin Manchu
The Locker Room
Hardie Slow on the Uptake
ACTU secretary, Greg Combet, said it appeared the company had learned little from its battering before the Jackson Inquiry that heard evidence it had engaged in a sophisticated disinformation campaign.
"It is astonishing after James Hardie has been through the Jackson Inquiry in New South Wales that the company would still be sending letters to suppliers in the building industry, making claims that were patently wide of the mark," Combet said.
The letter sought to defend the company's asbestos record at a time when unions and local authorities were urging boycotts until it agreed to compensate Australians dying from contact with its products.
The communication with the industry claimed James Hardie subsidiaries AMABA and AMACA were only two of around 150 defendants and accounted for just 15 percent of future likely claims in Australia.
In fact, James Hardie was Australia's leading manufacturer of asbestos products.
Its American-based CEO conceded to the Jackson Inquiry that claims against Hardie were substantially higher than the number facing any other defendant.
Uncontested evidence stated that James Hardie was now implicated in more than 40 percent of all claims before the NSW Dust Diseases Tribunal.
The Hardie letter said the company had phased out blue asbestos once the link with mesothelioma had been "firmly established" and it stopped using asbestos entirely well before last year's ban on its use.
But, Combet said, it didn't say that James Hardie companies had continued manufacturing asbestos products for "many decades after health risks had become clear".
Combet said it was time for the company to come clean.
"James Hardie should end the spin and stop this superficial marketing exercise," he said.
The ACTU wrote to James Hardie, last week, demanding withdrawal of its letter and threatening Federal Court proceedings.
The company's Australian general manager, James Chilcoff, agreed to stop further distribution of the letter.
Meanwhile, NSW Labor Council has blocked the use of any James Hardie products on the renovation of its Goulburn St, headquarters.
The move followed decisions by more than a dozen NSW local authorities, including Sydney City, Leichhardt and Newcastle, to ban Hardie's products until it agrees to pay full compensation to sufferers of asbestos-related lung diseases.
The furore over Hardie's corporate behaviour began when the AMWU blew the whistle on a 2001 restructure that saw it relocate to the Netherlands. It promised the NSW Supreme Court it would leave assets of $1.9 billion behind for the use of creditors, including asbestos disease sufferers.
In 2002, directors cancelled that arrangement without informing the court, NSW Government, sufferers or unions.
CEO Macdonald argued the Netherlands-based operation had no legal or moral obligation to dying Australians.
The Jackson Inquiry was told that James Hardie subsidiaries would fall more than $2 billion short of being able to meet expected compensation claims.
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