By Andy Richards, Ysgrifennydd Cymru / Wales Secretary, Uno’r Undeb / Unite the Union
On Wednesday 20 November the Welsh Assembly passed the Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill. Once the Bill gets the Royal Assent workers exposed to asbestos related diseases are one step closer to getting justice and the help they need.
For decades industries that were the backbone of the Welsh economy carried a ‘terrible disease.’ Negligent employers, who allowed thousands of Welsh workers to be exposed to the deadly dust of asbestos, will finally pay a price for the years of neglect.
And don’t be under any illusion that asbestos diseases are a thing of the past, this is not so. Today workers are still feeling its painful effect and will carry on doing so until its expected peak in about 2016.
Unite fought long and hard on behalf of its members to ensure that asbestos victims retain their right to compensation for the injuries they’ve sustained just by doing a hard day’s work. For many of course it has come too late. These workers suffered and died from asbestos dust - a direct result of negligence.
The Bill’s sponsor Mick Antoniw AM said:
“People whose lives have been blighted are finally going to get the social justice they deserve. The trades unions were unwavering in their support for the Asbestos Bill and I am grateful to both Unite and the GMB for their help. Together, with that support, the justice for many of those suffering from asbestos diseases will become a reality. Both unions fought many battles for their members on this issue and they contributed their own members’ funds to pay for legal opinions, advice and drafting in the early stages.
“By using legislation for the benefit of the people the Welsh Assembly has led the way. We estimate that the new law could raise up to a million pound a year for the Welsh NHS - a cancer nurse costs £50,000 per annum. We could employ twenty cancer nurses.
“It’s only right that medical costs incurred by the NHS should be recovered from those who caused the disease and used to give more support to asbestos victims and their families.
“This is a major victory for those whose lives have been blighted. It is also a decisive day for devolution”.
The Bill which had the backing of the Welsh Labour Government with only the Tories in the Welsh Assembly voting against the legislation will enable the Welsh Government to recover the cost of treating someone who has been exposed to asbestos – estimated at around £2 million a year – from the proven negligent party (employer) or their insurer. Any monies recovered would be ring fenced and allocated for the specific use of treating and supporting asbestos victims and their families.
More information can be found at Recovery of Medical Costs for Asbestos Diseases (Wales) Bill