The United Steelworkers union says the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission has unfairly disqualified claimants from the Baie Verte asbestos mines.

Two years ago, the provincial government's review division rejected claims made by the Steelworkers Union on behalf of families of two deceased miners.

One had gastrointestinal cancer and the other cancer of the larynx, but those diseases are not automatically covered by the workers' compensation commission.

Union official Marie Kelly said the commission's review division rejected medical evidence that connected those types of cancer to asbestos exposure.

"I think there's plenty of studies out there that show [these] cancers are caused by asbestos exposure," she said.

"There are other provinces – Ontario, Manitoba, B.C. – many other provinces who've actually said there's enough study out there for us to believe they are actually connected, and they provide benefits."

The union presented its views in a brief to the mandatory review of workers compensation now holding hearings across the province.

A spokesperson for the compensation review division was not able to comment on the Baie Verte cases.

The Steelworkers Union can appeal the division's ruling to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland.

Health problems arising from asbestos mining have been an issue in the Baie Verte area for decades.

In 1977, workers at Advocate Mines launched what was called Canada's longest health-related strike. The workers demanded healthier working conditions, not increased pay or benefits.

  • CBC Archives: Stuart McLean's 1978 documentary for Sunday Morning on the Baie Verte strike
  • The asbestos mine in the community was developed in the 1950s, and run by Advocate Mines until 1981. It was reopened as Baie Verte Mines in 1982, and was restructured several times before closing for good in 1995.

    Workers and their families have said asbestos exposure contributed to serious health problems over the years.