Unions welcome James Hardie settlement

Issue 

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Greg Combet expressed "great pride" in the role played by trade unions and union members in achieving justice for the victims of James Hardie's asbestos products.

James Hardie, which was Australia's largest manufacturer of asbestos products, established a Netherlands-based parent company that took $1.9 billion from Australia to the Netherlands to avoid its Australian financial obligations.

On February 8, Combet told the media that after six years of struggle, unions were pleased to see James Hardie take responsibility for its victims.

"What unions have helped secure is a final, open ended, tax-office and now shareholder-approved funding agreement from James Hardie which will see Australian victims of its asbestos products properly compensated now and into the future.

"Following the 99.6% vote of support from James Hardie shareholders, the company will make an initial payment of around $185 million into the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund with further regular payments to be made over the minimum 40 year life of the agreement.

"The pressure of unions, along with the NSW government and the tireless work of the victim support groups and the community has been crucial to the success of this campaign ..."

"There has been such broad support from unions it is hard to single out individuals", Combet said, however he noted the important roles of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), which represents many current and former James Hardie employees, and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.

Combet went to say that the "health and safety of working Australians is a bread and butter issue for unions and will continue to be despite the federal government's best efforts to nobble our role. Without unions [to] whom can the victims of corporate wrongdoing turn to?"

A NSW judicial inquiry found that James Hardie significantly under-funded its medical fund by up to $2 billion.

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