The Supreme Court has given a highly significant ruling on the asbestos suits filed by former employees of factories in the Sennan area, Osaka Prefecture. It ordered the government to pay compensation and make an apology. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, however, is totally unwilling to accept the top court ruling seriously to be on the side to help victims. Remedies must be made in the earliest time. The government should make a political decision.
GOVERNMENT SHOULD MAKE A POLITICAL DECISION
Ministry does not move rightly
Immediately after the court ruling of October 9 the plaintiffs and defense lawyers who demand the state to compensate have repeatedly taken solicitation actions to the government to reach a political settlement. They insisted ‘patients wait for an apology from the state every moment as they may die at any time. How will the government take responsibility for deaths as it keeps a carefree stance? It has passed a week since the ruling. The ministry has not dispatched any official to the Sennan region.’ The group of plaintiffs had a meeting October 16 with an official of the General Affairs Section, Labor Standards Bureau of the Ministry when annoyance and indignation erupted from the victims.
The Supreme Court attributed for the first time responsibility for health damages of asbestos to the state authority: 54 plaintiffs in a second group have been awarded compensation, but for 28 people in a first group the cases were sent back to the Osaka High Court. It is because ‘it takes some half a year to assess sums’ (according to the lawyers).
The plaintiffs filed the suits eight and a half years ago. Fourteen people died of cancer or mesothelioma before the recent ruling. Time is scarce for victims who suffer from lethal diseases.
The court ruling condemned the state government. It must respond sincerely. The plaintiffs have requested;
(1) a sincere apology for a fact that the state forgave generation of serious hazards and their expansion and delayed in relieving victims,
(2) a swift, political lump-sum settlement for both of two groups of plaintiffs pursuant to the Supreme Court ruling,
(3) consultation meetings to help residents in the Sennan area beyond the plaintiffs and to remove asbestos left behind
For the ministry these three conditions are the minimum obligations to fulfill.
Policy Package for Relief
Asbestos had been massively imported to meet demands of military industries in the pre-war period. After the WWII it was purchased from abroad as a construction material to sustain economic development of the nation. Lawsuits count 14 and in total 838 people have sought for responsibility of the state government. They are former workers of factories and those who worked at construction sites who deteriorate health. They are from Sennan area and from the rest of the country and claim in total approximately 26.5 billion Yen in reparation.
The court ruling clearly judges that the state must apply proper norms in the regulatory procedures in line with technological developments and medical expertise as immediately, timely and precisely as possible. Therefore the government must act sincerely and should establish a new compensation mechanism instead of waiting for a judicial solution. The government must open a way to compensate all victims of asbestos.
Supreme Court Prefers State to Victims
Certainly the ruling is epoch-making as it will be a basis to help the victims. But it only admits liability of the state in terms of 13 years from 1958 to 1971. Meanwhile, the judgment of the High Court has detected responsibility of the state up until 1995 when the asbestos was banned as a deadly material. The top court ruling is extremely unsatisfactory to the victims as it favors the government.
October 28, 2014