A landmark settlement  has brought justice for thousands of South African former asbestos miners with the signing of a multi-million Rand trust fund.

Lawyers acting for the asbestos miners and their families have forced South African mining companies Gencor and Gefco to establish a Trust Fund worth R 448 million (£37.5m). It is by far the biggest payout of its kind in South Africa and the first time black miners have got compensation against their employers.

UK national trade union law firm Thompsons Solicitors and South African firm Ntuli Noble Spoor signed the agreement today 12 March 2003.  An announcement is being made to the South African Stock Exchange at 7am South African time on 13 March.

Thompsons' experience of representing British workers with asbestos related diseases

The establishment of the Trust fund by the transfer of cash from Gencor and Gefco will allow Gencor to go ahead with its plans to "unbundle" shares, plans which were suspended whilst the legal action against the firm was ongoing.

The only exception to the Trust is those who had exposure to asbestos whilst working for Cape PLC and who are clients of London based solicitors Leigh Day & Co.  Leigh Day have refused to participate in the Trust.

Mark Berry of Thompsons said:

"This is a practical demonstration of international solidarity between workers. We have been able to use Thompsons' extensive experience of representing British workers with asbestos related diseases, to assist Ntuli Noble Spoor and the South African NUM.

Compensation for asbestos victims

"This is an open and transparent Trust, agreed as the most efficient and cost effective way of getting compensation to the victims. It will be run by people of probity and integrity and will be independent of both employers and  lawyers.

"We regret that the Trust does not cover Leigh Days' Cape claimants. We nevertheless hope that they will be successful in their campaign against Cape, and we will continue to support them in every way possible."

TUC General Secretary elect Brendan Barber said:

"This is a very welcome settlement. It's the closure of another sorry chapter in the history of asbestos, the damage it has done to workers throughout the world and union efforts to secure compensation for its victims.

Richard Spoor of Ntule Noble & Spoor said:

"While we are pleased that the battle with Gencor and Gefco is over, we still believe they could and should have paid more into the Trust. We could have fought on but it would have been a protracted legal battle and would have delayed payments to claimants for several years. Many will die in that time, and others will become seriously ill. Money which otherwise would be available for victims, would have been spent on legal fees. Now, the Trust should be able to start making payments in about six months."

The BBC also covered this story.  For more information visit 'SA Mineworkers win asbestos payout'.

Notes to editors

  • The attorneys for the applicants will receive 2.75% of the total sum as a contribution to their costs that they have incurred in taking the legal action which has led to this settlement.
  • Gefco will liquidate its remaining assets, and will then pay 50% of the proceeds into the Trust.
  • The Trust will establish procedures for claimants to follow when making claims.
  • It will establish a panel of reputable 'claimant representative organisations' which will be authorised by the Trust to help claimants with this process. Providing that the rules laid down by the Trust are followed, these Organisations will be paid a fee for their services fixed by the Trust, which means that the claimants will receive the full value of their award.
  • The life of the Trust is expected to be 25 years.