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Thousands of miners, ex-employees and dependents of deceased miners will finally receive compensation for suffering through tuberculosis or silicosis because of working underground in gold mines, following Friday's historic court decision.
This after the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg approved the settlement of the lengthy class action agreement.
The settlement is between the Occupational Lung Disease Working Group – representing African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American SA, AngloGold Ashanti, Gold Fields, Harmony and Sibanye Stillwater. Miners were represented by Richard Spoor Inc, Abrahams Kiewitz Inc and the Legal Resources Centre.
Judge Leoni Windell said that the negotiations towards an agreement for miners either living with lung disease or those who were deceased as well as their dependents "yielded the best possible settlement terms that the parties and stakeholders could find in the circumstances."
The six companies will pay out R5bn in claims and miners will receive between R70 000 and R500 000, depending on which of the four categories they fall into.
Fin24 spoke to Richard Spoor of Richard Spoor Attorneys Inc. about what will happen next.
Q: What does this court approval mean for miners?
A: The settlement agreement can now come into effect. I've been running with this matter since 2005. It began with some test litigation that had to go to the Constitutional Court in 2011 and we've been running the class action since then.
It's a huge relief. Settlements by their nature are compromises, it isn't perfect but the judges have satisfied themselves that this is the best possible agreement.
Q: Do all affected miners fall under this agreement?
A: The option still remains for miners to opt out of the settlement agreement if they feel the terms aren't satisfactory, however this will require them to sue the companies individually in lengthy and costly legal processes.
Q: When will the trust begin its work of dispersing the funds?
A: The Tshiamiso Trust is still being established. Professor May Hermanus who is a former inspector of mines and academic has been appointed as chairperson. The trustees have a responsibility on their shoulders. They will have to work out a programme how to reach former miners who are scattered across Southern Africa. They will then medically screen them and decide on compensation values.
Q: What are some of the difficulties associated with reaching so many people in often rural locations?
A: This is a huge challenge and I foresee the biggest bottleneck being the medical examinations. Many of the people claiming will require chest X rays and lung functions tests which are not readily available in rural areas. We are using mobile clinics, state and private facilities to do this.
Q: When will miners actually receive their money?
A: I expect the claims process will begin properly in the new year. Once people have been registered they will need to be medically screened and their employment verified and they should be paid out in a matter of weeks, not months. There are also safeguards against fraudulent claims but it is a relatively simple process.
Q: What process do dependents of deceased miners follow for compensation?
A: There are a number of different categories for dependents to claim and its quite technical and complex. Most of them will not have to prove cause of death. They will have to show that their family member suffered from a lung disease.
Q: Is R5bn enough to pay all potential claimants?
A: The R5bn is the minimum guaranteed amount that the mining companies will pay and even if they go bankrupt tomorrow, the money is already ring-fenced as compensation. The six companies still have liability in the class action settlement if more claimants come forward and the figure tops R5bn.