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Keywords:

  • compensation;
  • mining;
  • silicosis;
  • tuberculosis;
  • South Africa

Abstract

The year 2011 marked the centenary of compensation legislation for miners' lung disease in South Africa. This commentary aims to demonstrate that the current compensation system does not serve its intended beneficiaries, particularly the large population of former gold miners affected by high rates of silicosis and tuberculosis. The system has a complex legislative history, reflecting contending political, and economic forces, and characterized by racial discrimination. The financial basis of the system is currently in crisis owing to historical underfunding and failure to take into account the mounting burden of disease among black former miners. The real value of compensation awards fell sharply between 1973 and 1993, only partly recovering in recent years. Barriers to claiming benefits, particularly by black former miners who know little about the process, have been extensively documented. Integration of miners' compensation into general workers' compensation has been mooted since the 1980s but has stalled, owing to the high cost of closing the gap between the mostly inferior financial benefits under the mining legislation and those available under workers' compensation legislation. A recent constitutional court decision has opened the way for unprecedented civil litigation against the gold mining industry for silicosis, adding to the pressure for reform. A number of changes are called for: harmonization of financial benefits with retention of certain of the special arrangements for miner claims, a regional cross-border system of medical examination points for former miners, education of miners about the system, and some degree of privatization of claims processing. Am. J. Ind. Med. 55:560–569, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.