Asbestosis victims win 3 cr compensation from UK Trust
In a payout that could set a precedent, a defunct UK company that made asbestos sheets at its Ghatkopar plant has compensated 95 former workers – and in two cases their spouses – accepting their claims that the nature of their work was responsible for them suffering from asbestosis, a dangerous lung infection that could lead to cancer (see box).
Till 1993, UK-based M/s Turner & Newall were one of the major share-holders in Hindustan Composites Ltd, which made brake liners and clutch facings. In 2004, Krantikari Kamgar Union along with Occupational Health and Safety Centre conducted tests on around 180 workers of the company, and around 42 were found to be suffering from asbestosis. A case was filed by the union, which is still pending in the labour court at Mumbai.
In the meantime, M/s Turner & Newall wound up operations and a trust fund was set up to settle claims for asbestosis from all over the world. After months of negotiations, the trust fund agreed to accept medical evidence of the Occupational Health and Safety Centre, and in November this year, 97 people received the first tranche of compensation. The union had forwarded 115 claims.
The two women who won the claim are wives of the company workers. They contracted asbestosis from the clothes of their spouses. One of the women, Indira Pavekar, said, “I received compensation of Rs 7 lakh. My husband had 60 per cent asbestosis. Obviously I am happy to get back something after my husband gave up his health for the sake of the company. This decision sends a message that no company can take their workers’ health for granted.”
Another claim winner, 68-year-old Ganpat Palshetkar, said he received around Rs 8 lakh. “The warehouse was my world. It took away my health, gave me this disease. I hope to put on track whatever remains of my life with this money.”
Krantikari Kamgar Union president Sanjay Singhvi said the aim of the entire campaign was to make sure “foreign companies stop treating In-dian workers like objects for experiment.” He said, “This is a huge victory and the compensation is welcome, but it is not the solution. How can anything substitute health? It’s time all companies create a healthy working environment.”
What is Asbestosis
Asbestosis is a chronic inflammatory and fibrotic medical condition affecting the lungs. It is caused by inhalation and retention of asbestos fibres and usually occurs after high intensity and/or long-term exposure to asbestos (particularly in those individuals working on production or end-use of products containing asbestos) and is therefore regarded as an occupational lung disease.
People with extensive occupational exposure to mining, manufacturing, handling or removal of asbestos are at risk of developing asbestosis. Sufferers may experience severe shortness of breath and are at risk for lung cancer.