The Catholic Church announced on Wednesday that it is leading a class action against mining companies in South Africa, representing coal miners who have been affected by lung disease.
Lawyers representing the Southern African Bishops Conference filed documents with South Africa’s High Court on Tuesday, according to a statement.
“Very often ex-mine workers are no longer members of trade unions and therefore lack the means and capacity to seek legal recourse from large companies which are responsible for their lung diseases,” said Archbishop of Cape Town Stephen Brislin.
“It is thus incumbent on the Church to give assistance where it can… so that they can access compensation that is legally due to them.”
Richard Spoors, an attorney with a track record of securing compensation in similar cases, is representing the miners.
The case, initiated on behalf of 17 former and current mine workers, is directed against mining giants BHP and its spin-off South32, as well as South Africa’s Seriti. Dasantha Pillay, a lawyer from Spoors’ firm, told media.
The legal action aims to provide redress for all miners who were employed by these companies since 1965 and developed lung diseases, along with the families of workers who passed away due to illnesses caused by coal dust exposure.
The church stated that it took the initiative to initiate and facilitate the case after being approached by mine workers seeking assistance.
Coal serves as a fundamental pillar of South Africa’s economy, providing employment for nearly 100,000 individuals and contributing to 80 percent of electricity generation.
The concentration of the industry is within the eastern Mpumalanga region, an area that Greenpeace claims harbors some of the most polluted air globally.
Despite being aware of the hazards faced by coal miners, the companies neglected to offer their employees proper training, equipment, and a secure working environment, as stated in the class action.