Former UK coal miners seek compensation

Tuesday, 13 May, 2003

Thousands of former British coal miners now living in Australia and New Zealand will be able to seek compensation for work-related illnesses, in what is believed to be the biggest class action in the world.

The agreement will allow about 5000 expatriate miners who suffer from chronic respiratory diseases from inhaling coal dust to access an A$11 billion compensation fund set up by the British Coal Corporation.

The compensation process involves about 200,000 former British miners around the world.

It has been under way in England since 1999, after the British Coal Corporation admitted liability in a landmark court case in 1998.

Miners who worked in England or Wales after 1954 or Scotland after 1949, and the families of those who died from respiratory illnesses, are eligible to claim the compensation.

Law firm Ryan Carlisle Thomas (RCT), which will manage the claims of the Australian and New Zealand miners, said the 325 page agreement was a major victory for sick and dying miners.

RCT partner Simon Garnett said it was previously impossible for living miners to claim compensation without returning to the UK for medical tests.

"We are hopeful that the medical testing can commence in Australia within the next few months," Garnett said.

He said the miners would receive payouts of up to several hundred thousand pounds, each within nine months of lodging their claims.

The payout was based on the severity of the illness and whether the worker had also smoked or worked in coal mines outside of the UK.

Former miner Tom Cledwyn Williams, who worked in a coal mine in Wales for 14 years, said he'd been waiting for a long time to receive compensation.

Williams, 67, from Mornington in Victoria's south-east, has watched his father, also a miner, and four brothers die excruciating deaths from respiratory diseases.

He also has silicosis, a disabling dust-related disease of the lungs, and Vibration White Finger, a condition caused by vibrating machinery and asthma.

"Sixty seven is too young not to be able to breathe," Williams said.

"I'm not interested in how much I win as long as I win. If I can get the British Coal Board to say sorry I can go to my grave in peace."

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