Three of the UK’s largest trade unions have given their backing to a campaign to restore the right to compensation for thousands of workers.

The Northern Regional Secretaries of the GMB, Unite the Union and UCATT have added their voices to a campaign in the Tyneside press to put pressure on the Government to step in to remedy a House of Lords ruling which ended the decades old right to claim compensation for pleural plaques.

Thompsons Solicitors has already pledged its support to the campaign.

Pleural plaques are scarring of the lungs caused by asbestos. Although rarely causing symptoms they are associated with an increased risk of developing fatal conditions like mesothelioma.

Thousands of people in the UK have Pleural Plaques

Thousands of people in the UK have the condition. Most were exposed to asbestos in the workplace at a time when employers were fully aware of the harmful effects and did nothing to protect workers.

The House of Lords ended the right to compensation for pleural plaques in 2007 as a result of a test case brought by the insurance industry.

Before then average awards of between £5,000 to £15,000 were made for pleural plaques with the first successful cases being decided in 1984.

Unions campaign for workers' rights

The GMB led a lobby of parliament, attended by more than 300 workers. They called for the Government to bring recourse to pleural plaques victims and helped force a government consultation.

Tom Brennan, Regional Secretary of GMB Northern said: “The GMB states, unequivocally, that our preferred course of action is a reversal of the House of Lords decision as soon as possible and a restoration of compensation to all those who have negligently suffered by exposure to asbestos.

“The House of Lords decision was flawed in the extreme. The invasion of the body by a potentially deadly dust, the scarring of the lungs internally and the resulting anxiety, where many go on to develop more serious deadly asbestos related diseases all point to the need for a legal compensation system for all those diagnosed with pleural plaques. We helped force the consultation process and we will not rest until justice has been restored.”

Unite the Union have sought to protect the rights of pleural plaques sufferers since the beginning of the insurance industry’s campaign to halt compensation awards.

Davey Hall, Unite Regional Secretary in the North East said: “Thousands of men and women have been seriously wronged and face the twin blows of knowing they have a very high risk of developing an asbestos-related disease that could kill them, and the denial of the compensation they and their families rightly deserve. These people, their families and their unions are now looking to our Government to right this wrong.

John Scott, North East Regional Secretary of the construction workers’ union UCATT said: “Speaking as someone diagnosed with pleural plaques some years ago and compensated for the condition I feel a greater obligation and determination to see others with the same condition also compensated.

“This is about justice. This is about the trade unions identifying those members with pleural plaques and giving them the legal support in achieving a fair compensation.

“The decision of the Law Lords was a decision based on class, rest assured those Law Lords and their families will not have been exposed to asbestos in their working environment so what interest have they in those who have.”

Across Britain almost 2,000 people a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma

Ian McFall head of asbestos policy at Thompsons Solicitors, which represents hundreds of people from the region with pleural plaques said: “The trade unions have been instrumental in putting pressure on the Government on behalf of their members with pleural plaques and others who may be diagnosed with asbestos related disease in the future. The unions’ backing is the most important impetus behind this campaign.”

Many people with pleural plaques tell of the worry and uncertainty it causes knowing that one day they may develop asbestos cancer. 

Across Britain almost 2,000 people a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma, the fatal asbestos related cancer.

Following pressure from the unions last year the Government held a consultation looking at a number of different options to bring redress to people diagnosed with pleural plaques. The results of that consultation were expected to be revealed before Christmas.