The Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act 1973 (ODMWA) established a no-fault system to compensate miners suffering from prescribed occupational diseases. It is funded by payment of levies by mining companies, calculated as a function of the total number of shifts undertaken in dusty work by the mine workforce and the dust levels on the mine. The more that is paid out in compensation the higher the levies are that the companies must pay.
The compensation paid under ODMWA system is, however, relatively small. It does not include any compensation for pain and suffering and is based on miners’ earnings at the time of their employment. Black miners earned less and were therefore entitled to less compensation. It is not uncommon for silicosis victims to have received payments equivalent to £3,000 to £4,000.
Due to the latency period of the disease, silicosis frequently develops after retirement. Miners’ are entitled to a “benefit medical examination” every 2 years to determine their entitlement to ODMWA compensation. However, the absence of clinics in rural areas means that most miners with silicosis have not been diagnosed and are therefore deprived of compensation.
A 1998 study by Trapido found that 63% of ex-miners who were found by the researchers to be suffering from silicosis had not been compensated at all.
The Leigh Day team in South Africa also found that the vast majority of prospective silicosis clients had not been through the ODMWA benefit medical examination process.
This is largely because medical services available to perform benefit medical examinations in the regions where ex-miners live in the Eastern Cape are extremely limited and local private doctors in these areas generally lack the resources, equipment, experience and willingness to undertake benefit medical examinations.
The mining industry, including AASA, is well aware of the predicament of ex-miners and their families and has been promising for at least a decade to assist ex-miners in accessing benefit medical examination facilities.
A ‘one-stop service centre opened in Mthatha in April 2014, however the extent to which this alleviates the situation remains to be seen. Certainly it will not assist the families of the large number of miners who have died in the past without being diagnosed or compensated.