||Issue No. 238||17 September 2004|
Interview: True Matilda
Politics: State of Play
Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Unions: Rhodes Scholars
National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
International: People Power
Economics: A Bit Rich
History: Mine Shafts
Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Organising: Building a Wave
Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Culture: The Word On The Street
The Locker Room
Invest In Dignity!
Hardie Lemon in Orange County
On the same day that 5000 Sydneysiders rallied outside a Darling Harbour shareholders information meeting, American unionists picketed the company's US national headquarters at Mission Viejo California.
The Americans labelled the building materials giant a "lemon in Orange County".
Asbestos groups from Scotland and England joined Japanese and European trade unionists at a rally outside James Hardie's annual general meeting in Amsterdam today, demanding justice for dying Australians and their family members.
Their numbers were boosted by Netherlands parliamentarians from the Greens and Socialist parties and European ICFTU representatives.
The ICFTU has formally requested that the Dutch Government conclude a treaty with Australia that would prevent the recently relocated company dodging legal decisions in its former homeland.
Less than one percent of James Hardie's Australian shareholders attended this week's meeting that dealt with its treatment of asbestos disease sufferers.
The 140 shareholders were outnumbered by 5000 workers outside who demanded that James Hardie fully compensate around thousands of Australians expected to die from contact with its products.
Shareholders who did attend were denied explanations from leaders most closely involved with the compo controversy. Chief executive, Peter Macdonald, gave an address on operational matters but answered no questions and chief financial officer, Peter Shafron, didn't show up.
Counsel assisting the NSW Inquiry into James Hardie's corporate restructure has flagged the possibility of criminal charges against both men.
The pair helped devise a scheme that saw James Hardie's asbestos liabilities moved to a trust fund while the parent company moved to the Netherlands.
The fund, established in 2001, faces a possible shortfall of more than $2 billion.
Asbestos sufferers and union officials made statements and asked questions during the three-hour information meeting.
Newly-appointed chair, Meredith Helicar, who was a board member throughout the restructure, showed interest in a proposal from AMWU secretary, Paul Bastian, that James Hardie underwrite an education campaign to limit future asbestos-related deaths.
Protest rallies were also held in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart, last Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Queensland's buyer-beware system of property conveyancing has made the state a priority target for advocates of tightened asbestos regulations.
AMWU officials held a summit meeting with deputy premier, Kerry Mackenroth, in Brisbane on Tuesday in a bid to fast-track safeguards for owners, occupiers and purchasers of domestic properties.
Unions and asbestos disease sufferers want a regime of domestic inspection certificates, backed by an asbestos household register, across the continent. But AMWU state secretary, Andrew Dettmer, said Queensland property laws made its situation "urgent".
"Legally, I could sell you a house in Queensland today that was riddled with asbestos and not have to tell you a thing," Dettmer said.
"The scale of private property renovations in this state makes the need for safeguards urgent.
"If you are a worker and you are exposed to asbestos, your employer is liable. If you own a commercial or industrial property, you are responsible and must have an asbestos register on site.
"But if you go into a private, domestic residence you have no protection whatsoever. Given the widespread use of asbestos prior to 1980, that is a real problem for home owners and renovators."
Asbestos support organisations have identified nearly 300 domestic building products, used in Australia, that contain the killer substance.
The AMWU wrote to Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, last week, seeking urgent action and the state government agreed to today's meeting.
Unlike Queensland, legislation in NSW, Victoria and South Australia requires vendors to warrant to the condition of the domestic properties they are selling.
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