SACBC Seeks Justice for Coal Miners with Black Lung Disease

The Commission for Justice and Peace of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) in collaboration with the South African human rights lawyers Richard Spoor have filed an action against global mining company South32.

The application for certification of a class action filed in the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Local Division, on Tuesday, August 15 seeks recourse for current and former coal miners, as well as dependents of deceased workers who contracted coal mine dust lung disease (CMDLD) in the form of pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In a message shared with the SACBC communications office, Cardinal-Elect Stephen Brislin said, “Very often workers do not have the means to seek legal recourse from large companies which have huge resources at their disposal,” hence the “Church is always concerned about the well-being of people with whom we work and live.”

“It is thus incumbent on the Church to give assistance where it can so that the rights of the vulnerable are respected and so that they can access compensation that is legally due to them. Many companies are amenable to settling such cases, but in some instances court action is necessary,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Coordinator of the SACBC Commission for Justice and Peace said in a statement that “the support provided by the Church to the coal-sick miners is one of the ways in which the Church is defending the dignity of workers in the mining economy.”

Fr Stan Muyebe OP went on to say, “Coal mine dust can cause miners to develop lung diseases including pneumoconiosis and COPD… Despite knowing the risks to coal miners, members of the coal mining industry failed to provide their workers with adequate training, equipment, and a safe working environment, the litigation alleges.”

In the Tuesday, August 15 statement, the member of the Order of Preachers (Domincans) says “The applicants argue that South32 breached the legal duties owed to the miners by failing to implement statutorily mandated procedures and protections. As a result, the miners developed incurable lung diseases.”

According to Fr Muyebe OP, the “class action is a first step toward obtaining justice for all coal miners who have suffered, often without any form of compensation. If approved by the Court, the litigation will cover coal mine workers and dependents from many regions and rural communities given that miners often travel from afar to gain employment.”

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