Advocates met in the Johannesburg High Court on Monday to hear the claims lodged against several South African mining giants. This is a certification hearing, set to last two weeks, in which the legal representatives of the mine workers will attempt to get the case classified as a class-action suit (
a lawsuit which is filed by an individual or small group, acting on behalf of a large group)
In the words of mineworker representative, Wim Trengove SC: 'The question is, how does one bring justice to a case involving hundreds of thousands…?'
He went on further to argue that a class action would best involve all those who are suffering, and even those who have died, from diseases caused by their working conditions on the mines.
According to the Mail and Guardian,
it will be the biggest class-action suit in South Africa's history – if it is successful of course. 'The sheer size of it is mind-boggling.'
So what exactly are the parties saying?
Many thousands of mineworkers, who are suffering from silicosis and/or TB, have requested for the Johannesburg High Court to certify a class-action suit so that they can sue around 32 gold mining companies.
They claim that these companies, which include Anglo Gold, Harmony Gold and Gold Fields, have shown gross negligence towards the control of silica dust, resulting in them contracting serious medical conditions such as silicosis (lung fibrosis by inhaling dust containing silica particles) and TB (infectious bacterial disease, especially of the lungs).
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There are 59 ex-miners, as the applicants, in this case. But they represent another possible 100 000.
'They consistently and systematically failed for generations to employ proper measures to protect mineworkers against excessive levels of dust and the concomitant risks of silicosis and tuberculosis,'
say the mineworkers in court papers.
As reported by IOL, not one, or even two, but three law firms are representing the mine workers who work in mines with inadequate ventilation systems..
A mineworkers' senior counsel, Geoff Budlender, stated in court that the mining companies knew very well about the connection between the deplorable working conditions and the diseases. And yet, they still failed to protect their workers.
Alan fine, a representative for some of the mines involved, spoke about talks with the mineworkers' legal representatives to introduce a 'legacy fund' (which would increase compensation amounts) instead of having a class-action case.
According to the Mail & Guardian,
the mining companies say that it's impossible for the courts to process a case of this magnitude, with a possible 100 000 damages complaints to deal with.
The article goes on to say that the 'question being grappled with this week was how to process the complaints of 100 000 sick and dying former mineworkers.'
What's at stake?
These companies could be facing MASSIVE damage claims. In light of this, they have opposed the application to have the suit declared a class-action suit.
The magnitude of this health and safety-related case seems somewhat incomprehensible. Depending on the overall outcome, this could be one of the biggest health and safety blunders in South Africa's history.
Another Mail & Guardian
article states that this case could rewrite the law books and "push the boundaries of the legal court system."
The publicity and legal stress alone is enough to create huge obstacles for a company in a situation like this. And so it is recommended that you always look out for the health and safety of your employees.
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