Asbestos victims sceptical of new offer

James Hardie said on Friday it would attempt to fund all future asbestos-related compensation claims, after a new scheme proposed by the company was rejected by unions and victims support groups.

On the final day of a New South Wales Special Commission of Inquiry into the company’s asbestos liabilities, Hardie’s said it would cover an estimated $1.4 billion shortfall in the compensation expected to be claimed by victims.

The ACTU’s General Secretary, Greg Combet says the move is welcome, but James Hardie is still trying to limit the levels of compensation available to victims.

“The company is arguing that the current system which is based on Common Law rights, and that is levels of compensation determined by a judge, be abolished in favour of a statutory scheme which would define the limits of compensation available, and of course the company is only doing that because it wants to limit its liability.”

The Asbestos Diseases Foundation, representing victims, has cautiously welcomed the commitment by James Hardie.

But Paul Bastian from the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union says James Hardie still appears to be trying to avoid offering full compensation.

“While they’ve given all victims a commitment to fund all victims, they’ve yet again put qualifications on it.

“They’ve said that it must be affordable to James Hardie, it must be under a statutory scheme, both of which have to be approved by the board and the shareholders, well, James Hardie isn’t the victim here.”

The New South Wales inquiry heard on Friday James Hardie would be agreeing to participate in a scheme to compensate 4,374 future asbestos-related victims, 2,603 future non-asbestos-related victims and 926 future workers’ compensation claimants.

In 2001, James Hardie established the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation, providing it with $293 million to meet future compensation claims.

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