Murder comes cheap to the bosses

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
22 October 2007

Last week, at the stroke of a pen, 5 Law Lords deprived tens of thousands of workers suffering from pleural plaques (a lung condition due to exposure to asbestos) of the compensation they were owed.

For over two decades, insurance companies have tried to get the courts to prevent these workers from getting compensation worth only £12,000 each, on the cynical grounds that pleural plaques are not, in and of themselves, one of the deadly diseases caused by asbestos, but "merely" a warning that cancer may occur. As if claiming compensation for an injury at work was only legitimate when on the verge of death! The truth is that pleural plaques is an occupational disease and as such it calls for compensation.

But last week, those 5 Lords who have certainly never risked their lives at work, decided that it was far more legitimate to help insurance companies to save an estimated £1bn worth of compensation owed to these workers.

In reality, of course, the issue should go much further than just compensation. The employers of these workers got away scot free. All it took was for them to have paid their insurance premiums, in fact. Because these bosses knew exactly what they were doing when they exposed workers to asbestos. It was not as if the dangers of asbestos fibres were not known. They had been discovered in Britain in the 1920s!

Once the evidence that asbestos caused lethal lung cancers was there, any employer still choosing to expose workers to asbestos without offering protection, was potentially committing murder and should have been treated as such. Had such obvious measures been taken as a matter of course, there would not be over 3,500 people dying from asbestos-related cancers every year and 14,000 suffering from asbestos related diseases.

But then, of course, the justice machine was never designed to jail employers, not even when they put workers' lives at risk. An impoverished single mother can be put in prison for writing bouncing cheques to buy food for her child, but an employer just gets his insurance company to pay for the damage he causes - that is, when the courts do not decide that the workers are not even entitled to a penny of compensation, as it is the case today!