Nfld. & Labrador

Compensate ailing asbestos workers, union pleads

Cancer-stricken men who worked at the Baie Verte asbestos mine in Newfoundland need compensation, not another study, union officials say.

Cancer-stricken men who worked at a Newfoundland asbestos mine need compensation, not another study, union officials say.

A committee reviewing the workers' compensation system, which reported earlier this month, has recommended a health study be done on former miners who are now sick.

The United Steelworkers union, which represents workers at the now-defunct Baie Verte asbestos mine, says the suggestion of a study only makes it look like the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission is waiting for former miners to die.

"Enough is enough," said Marie Kelly, an assistant director with the Steelworkers union.

"Quite honestly, it's outrageous and it's tragic… today we sit here and we still don't have justice," she said.

"Nobody believes we need to do more studies. What people believe is that people need to be compensated for getting cancers because of the workplace."

At least 140 former workers at the Baie Verte asbestos mine— which was first developed in the 1950s andrun by a succession of ownersbefore closing permanently in 1995— have some form of cancer.

While some with lung cancer have been compensated, other workers did not qualify. Workers' compensation regulations do not provide compensation to workers who contracted gastrointestinal cancers.

Gerald Dwyer, who worked at the Baie Verte mine for more than 30 years, is calling on Paul Shelley, the minister responsible for labour, to intervene. Shelley also represents the provincial district of Baie Verte.

"I think he should stand up for the people of Baie Verte, for the ordinary people," Dwyer said.

"We don't need the studies. It's a waste of money. We need somebody to stand up and say that these workers were injured on the job, the same as [if] they had an arm cut off or their leg cut off… and their dependents should be paid compensation for this injustice."

In the late 1970s, workers at the mine conducted what was called Canada's longest strike over health issues. The strikers were not fighting for better pay, but better occupational health and safety provisions.

Provincial NDP leader Lorraine Michael said the link between asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal cancer has been proven to her satisfaction.

"The information that the Steelworkers have in their hands is accurate information, and I stand with them," Michael said.

"I think the time for stalling is over and that the government should act."

An expert previously hired by the workers' compensation commission has determined that the link between asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal cancer is not solid.

Shelley was travelling Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.