South Africa gold mines face 500,000-strong suit on silicosisPublished by MAC on 2016-05-16
Source: Reuters, Bloomberg, Business Day Live (2016-05-15)
Silicosis class action suit against gold mining companies gets go ahead
Judge rules deceased’s families can be part of suit.
TJ Strydom and Zimasa Mpemnyama
13 May 2016
JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s High Court gave the green light on Friday for class action suits seeking damages from gold firms on behalf of up to half a million miners who contracted the fatal lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis while working underground.
The High Court decision sets the stage for protracted proceedings in the largest class action suits in Africa’s most industrialised country which analysts have said could cost the gold industry hundreds of millions of dollars.
Judge Phineas Mojapelo also said that workers who had died of the diseases could be included in the suits – with any damages paid to their family members – and that each mining company should be held liable separately for any damages.
“We hold the view that in the context of this case, class action is the only realistic option through which most mine workers can assert their claims effectively against the mining companies,” Mojapelo said in the unanimous ruling by a three-judge bench.
“Mining companies will be held liable or responsible for their own actions for unlawful emissions,” the judge said.
Some miners walked out of the courthouse triumphantly with fists raised, while activists sang and danced outside.
“This will make a difference in our lives, because we have been struggling for so long,” said Vuyani Dwadube, 74, a former rock driller who worked at Harmony Gold and suffers from tuberculosis.
In their heyday in the 1980s, South Africa’s gold mines employed 500 000 men, and some medical research suggests as many as one in two former gold miners has silicosis.
Silicosis is an incurable disease caused by inhaling silica dust from gold-bearing rocks. It causes shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pains, and also makes people highly susceptible to tuberculosis.
The defendants in the case include some of the world’s biggest bullion producers, who have been hit by a slide in commodities prices and widespread labour unrest among miners.
The defendants include global mining firm Anglo American, Africa’s top bullion producer AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Gold and African Rainbow Minerals (ARM), all of which have together formed the Occupational Lung Disease (OLD) Working Group to deal with such issues.
Alan Fine, a spokesman for OLD said in a statement the gold companies were studying the judgment and each firm would decide whether to appeal the court ruling.
“Either way, it should be noted that the finding does not represent a view on the merits of the cases brought by claimants,” Fine said.
Shares in the gold companies shares were mixed following the ruling, some tracking a stronger price for the precious metal.
“Certainly it will have an effect on their reserves. Most of them probably made provisions,” Gryphon Asset Management chief investment officer Abri du Plessis said.
“It’s still too early to say what it will be (the damages) but it does create a lot of uncertainty and that is never good for share prices,” he said.
There is little precedent in South African law, have their roots in a landmark 2011 ruling by the Constitutional Court that for the first time allowed lung-diseased miners to sue employers for damages.
The claims, which stretch back decades, involve not just South Africans but also thousands of former miners from neighbouring countries such as Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland.
That is why Anglo American, which no longer has any interests in gold mining, and ARM, which no longer operates gold mines, have been named in the claims.
Friday’s ruling is separate from a $30 million silicosis settlement with 4 400 miners reached in March by Anglo American and AngloGold.
Court gives go ahead to silicosis class action suit against gold mining companies
13 May 2016
THE High Court in Johannesburg has certified a class action by mineworkers against gold mining companies in SA.
The landmark judgment paves the way for tens of thousands of mineworkers and former mineworkers suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis (TB) to sue the mining companies for damages.
"After examining legal prescripts‚ we reached a conclusion that there are sufficient issues to certify a class action where there would be two classes: the silicosis class; and the TB class‚" the deputy judge president of the High Court in Johannesburg‚ Phineas Mojapelo‚ said in court on Friday morning.
The classes comprise current and former underground workers who had worked for two years in one of the mines from 1965 and contracted TB‚ and the workers who contracted silicosis. The class also constitutes dependants whose parents died after contracting silicosis and TB while working at the mines.
The 69 class representatives in the case were acting on behalf of thousands of former mineworkers‚ and are seeking compensation for having contracted silicosis and pulmonary TB at the mines.
The respondents were 30 mining companies that represent the entire gold mining industry in SA.
Apart from Randgold and Exploration, which said it would abide by the court’s decision‚ the rest of the mining companies strenuously opposed the application for the certification of a class action.
Class action could only proceed to trial if it has been certified by the court.
There is no known cure for silicosis, which is contracted through inhaling tiny particles of silica dust from gold-bearing rocks underground over a prolonged period.
The disease causes shortness of breath‚ a persistent cough and chest pains‚ and makes sufferers susceptible to TB.
In its judgment‚ the court said the gold mining industry in SA left in its trail tens of thousands of mineworkers suffering from incurable silicosis and pulmonary TB.
"Many workers died from these diseases‚" Judge Mojapelo said.
The judge said potential class members may range in numbers from 17‚000-500‚000.
Judge Mojapelo said the class action process was normally instituted by representatives on behalf of a class of plaintiffs.
"It is designed to cover situations where parties are (so) numerous that it will be impossible to bring them to court at the same time."
The judge said class action was also designed to protect a defendant from facing multiple actions.
"It enhances judicial economy and protects courts from having to consider the same evidence on the same issues.
"On the other hand‚ class action allows a single finding on issues which bind everyone."
South Africa gold mines face 500,000-strong suit on diseases
Following landmark judgement in South Gauteng High Court today.
13 May 2016
A South African court has allowed thousands of former mineworkers to proceed with a class action seeking damages from mining companies for lung diseases they contracted while working at their operations.
“Class action is the only realistic option through which most mineworkers can assert” their constitutional rights, Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo said at the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg Friday. Otherwise, “impoverished, indigent workers won’t be able to access justice,” he said.
Current and former mineworkers who contracted silicosis and pulmonary tuberculosis and the families of employees who have died from the diseases are eligible to join a suit, which may amount to as many as half a million people, Mojapelo said. The action would sue 32 mining companies for damages caused by unsafe working practices, lawyers for the applicants say.
Silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling dust from mines, causes scar tissue in the organs, increasing vulnerability to tuberculosis that can kill more than half of sufferers if not properly treated.
In a separate case settled in March, Anglo American Plc’s South African unit and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. agreed to pay about 500 million rand ($33 million) to 4,365 former employees who said they contracted dust-related lung diseases while working for the companies. That amounts to about 115,000 rand per person.
Under a scenario where 500,000 applicants for the class-action suit won the same amount of compensation, the mining companies would have to pay about 57.5 billion rand, or $3.8 billion.
The mining companies, which include Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold, Sibanye Gold Ltd., African Rainbow Minerals Ltd., Gold Fields Ltd. and Harmony Gold Mining Co., are studying the judgment and are pursuing an out-of-court settlement, said Alan Fine, a spokesman for the producers.
They “will decide individually whether to appeal,” he said. The companies want “a comprehensive solution that is both fair to past, present and future gold-mining employees, and also sustainable for the sector,” they said in a statement.
The next step for the applicants is to notify former mineworkers — many of whom are from rural areas of South Africa and neighboring countries such as Mozambique — of the case and establish the size of the class, according to Georgina Jephson, a lawyer for Richard Spoor Attorneys who’s working on the case. That may take as long as two years, she said.
Mining unions call for immediate change to labour laws after silicosis ruling
On Friday, the High Court ruled in favour of thousands of mineworkers who are living with silicosis.
15 May 2016
JOHANNESBURG – Mining unions have called for health and safety legislations to be reviewed following the landmark silicosis ruling.
On Friday, the High Court in Johannesburg ruled in favour of thousands of mineworkers who are living with silicosis or Tuberculosis while others have already died.
They will now be able to form a class action lawsuit, seeking damages from gold mining companies.
Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) spokesperson Manzini Zungu says mining labour laws need to change urgently.
“If they were criminally liable, would we have so many deaths underground? We wouldn’t!”
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM)'s Luphert Chiloane has called on mining companies not to appeal the High Court judgment, which could see a further lengthy delay before workers get compensation.
“They must just own up and the process should not actually drag on because the judgment is already out.”
Amcu says it hopes the judgment will finally ‘open the eyes’ of government to make the right changes in the interests of poor workers.
(Edited by Tamsin Wort)
Anglo, AngloGold silicosis payout to take up to four years
Former miners will be medically evaluated and paid compensation depending on the severity of their condition.
20 May 2016
Former South African mineworkers who won a R500 million ($32 million) payout from Anglo American’s South African unit and AngloGold Ashanti for contracting lung diseases may have to wait as long as four years to receive their full compensation.
The former gold miners will be medically evaluated and paid compensation depending on if they have silicosis or silico-tuberculosis and the severity of their condition, Leigh Day, the London-based law firm that brought the case, said in a statement on Friday. The case involves 4 365 ex-employees and relatives of deceased workers.
“Individual claimants who are found to have silicosis will receive differing amounts, not an average figure,” Leigh Day said. Those with the disease will receive an initial payout and then possibly more once the whole group has been evaluated. “Completion of the whole process is expected to take three to four years.”
The former mineworkers reached the settlement after suing the mining companies, who didn’t admit liability, for providing unsafe conditions in which to work. South Africa was the world’s top gold producer for a century to 2007 and is the source of a third of all bullion in existence. The country had loose labour laws and environmental regulations during apartheid, or whites-only rule, that ended in 1994.
In a separate lawsuit, other ex-mineworkers won the right to bring a class-action lawsuit against 32 mining companies earlier this month. They too are seeking damages from mining companies for lung diseases they contracted while working at their operations.
Silicosis, a lung disease caused by inhaling dust from mines, causes scar tissue in the lungs, increasing vulnerability to tuberculosis that can kill more than half of sufferers if not properly treated.
As much as 60% of the 4 365 former gold miners in the Leigh Day case may be found to have silicosis, the law firm said.
South African gold miners to appeal silicosis ruling
3 June 2016
South Africa’s top gold mining companies will appeal against a recent court ruling allowing the country’s biggest-ever class action to go ahead, a lawyer for the miners said on Friday.
The firms, reports Reuters, will dispute the High Court decision to let up to half a million current and former miners proceed with their multi-million-dollar suit, which seeks compensation for those who contracted the fatal lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis while working for the companies.
"While the companies deny liability for the claims, they said they prefer a fair and sustainable settlement over a long and protracted litigation."
Anglo American (LON:AAL), Africa's top bullion producer AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU), Harmony Gold (NYSE:HMY), Gold Fields (NYSE, JSE:GFI), Sibanye Gold (NYSE:SBGL) (JSE:SGL), and African Rainbow Minerals (JSE:ARI) formed last year a group to look at compensation and medical care for workers who acquired occupational lung disease, also known as silicosis.
The alliance confirmed Friday its members had filed individual applications to appeal last month’s ruling, adding that each of them have been seeking a settlement with the affected workers.
"Whilst the companies deny liability for the claims, it is nonetheless the working group’s view that a fair and sustainable settlement is preferable to long and protracted litigation," the group said in a statement, according to Reuters.
The claims go back decades, which explain why Anglo American, which no longer has any interests in gold mining, and African Rainbow Minerals, which no longer operates gold mines, were named in the suits.
Research indicates the miners caught silicosis, which has no known cure, from inhaling silica dust while drilling rock. The dust lodges in the lungs and causes permanent scars.
Symptoms include persistent coughing and shortness of breath, and the disease regularly leads to tuberculosis and death.
The suit, first filed in 2012, alleges the named companies knew of the dangers posed to miners by silica dust for more than a century and lists 12 specific forms of neglect and endangerment, including wilfully ignoring and/or failing to execute almost all of the recommended steps mandated in regulations and legislation designed to protect the miners from silica dust.