James Hardie wants tax breaks for killing workers
Saturday June 24th 2006, 10:12 am

image: ABCThe compensation payout deal to sufferers of asbestosis caused to James Hardie workers is in jeopardy as JH do not want to pay tax on the compo fund. JH is trying to pin the payout problems on the Australian Taxation Office– and the victims’ group spokesman is sadly going along with this notion.

Where else in industry would you get a tax break for poisoning your workers?

JH acknowledge their liability- the tax dispute is nothing but a delaying tactic. The longer they wait to pay out, the fewer claimants will be alive to bank the cheques- and Hardie know that full well.

Despite their corporate escape to the Netherlands, JH were brought to the Aussie compo bargaining table when numerous councils in Australia black-banned JH products. These boycotts have been lifted and now the financial pressure is off- and JH are right back to their old tricks.

Worse, the Labor Party’s NSW Premier Morris Iemma is supporting JH in their efforts to be rewarded for injuring their workers and delaying the payouts.

Labor Party, eh? If these are the working man’s political friends, they don’t need enemies.


9 Comments so far
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It is indeed disappointing that the NSW Premier and especially the victims’ group spokesman would take such a stance on the situation, apparently as a form of sell-out diplomacy. That said, I have trouble thinking of effective actions to move the fight forward in the victims’ favour other than the councils reestablishing their boycotts of JH products.

This issue has made numerous appearances in the New Zealand press over the years. Here, workers are eligible for lump-sum payments if it can be proven that they were exposed to asbestos after April 2002. However, if they were exposed to the substance prior to that time, they will receive a weekly Accident Compensation Comittee payment of a paltry sixty-seven dollars, which consequently renders them unable to sue any organisations that they believe to be at fault.

One victim, Ken Hurley, who worked for a local firm called de Geests in the 1970s has been diagnosed with cancer of the lung-lining which he believes to be a result of his exposure to the asbestos products that he was required to use in his work — and that, funnily enough, originated from JH’s plants in NSW. He intends to sue JH in Australia, because there is no way he can seek compensation in New Zealand even though he has been issued the same death sentence from the same company as the Aussie workers.

He has certainly got his work cut out for him even more now that these recent developments have taken place.

Comment by Gary 06.24.06 @ 4:14 pm

$67 per week is a profound insult when you have a dramatically fewer number of those weeks left than normal…

Comment by weez 06.24.06 @ 5:51 pm

Unfortunately the media echo chamber seems to be laying blame at the Tax Office’s feet. James Hardie can afford it, so it’s just horrible that they won’t pay up.

Comment by Flashman 06.24.06 @ 7:03 pm

Yeah, Flash, what’s with that? Even ABC is bending Hardie’s way.

The net effect should be the victims receiving $X. If JH has some tax liability in the course of providing $X, it sounds like a cost of doing business to me.

JH have done very well for decades on the backs of workers using their products. Workers ain’t coal mines- can’t strip all the goods out and trash the landscape on your exit in quite the same way.

Comment by weez 06.24.06 @ 7:19 pm

Isn’t that why they sent up the fund in the first place? Aren’t compo payouts usually direct to the victims? The allocation of the fund on the basis of actuary figures (read: ‘highly paid guesstimate’) was a red herring. They should just pay as each case is diagnosed and found to be asbestos related.


Comment by Supamum 06.24.06 @ 10:37 pm

Supamum, insurance companies earn their bread & butter by minimising payouts and thus loss against the annual profit. Any given insurer will have several people on staff who work very hard to reduce payouts or spread them over many years’ balance sheets. Any victim who approaches a liability claim against an insurance company without good legal representation is just plain silly.

Insurers try numerous methods to reduce their annual losses; my least favourite is the annuity scheme. A liable insurer may agree to purchase an annuity policy which earns interest and which pays out a sum to the victim on a yearly basis. Part of the annual payout will come from earned interest and the insurer can spread out the loss over many years. The only benefit to the victim is that they are unable to spend the settlement in one go.

Of course, it is much to the benefit of the bottom line that insurers work hard to disprove claims and eliminate payouts completely. Time is always on the side of the insurer. Jerking victims around for many years is a preferred tactic. Claimants not only die but even seriously injured people more often than not wander off and lose interest, convinced they’ll never be paid or that it’s simply more trouble than it’s worth.

Tort law ought to include provisions against delaying tactics, particularly in cases where the victim’s lifespan or quality of life are seriously affected. In many cases, the death of the claimant extinguishes the claim instead of the estate being able to claim the settlement.

Ascertainment of the cause of an injury isn’t that hard and doesn’t take very long- usually one trip to a medical specialist and a week for pathology (at worst). How any claim winds up taking years to settle is only explicable by the insurers’ legal counsel.

‘Bastards’ is spot on.

Comment by weez 06.25.06 @ 10:12 am

My dad died of mesothelioma.

It was really… really… horrible.

‘Bastards’ doesn’t even come close.

Comment by @ndy 06.26.06 @ 1:44 pm

During the Christmas break from uni in 1975-6, I took a job at Hardies’ asbestos pipe testing laboratory, where I was exposed to huge quantities of raw asbestos. As a result, I have a somewhat more compelling interest in this issue than most people I know.

I am certain that Hardies have got themselves into their current position through their own negligence and dissembling. I also agree with the principle that compensation payments should not be tax concessionary. Indeed, if setting up the compensation fund for asbestos victims sent Hardies broke, I wouldn’t find that an inappropriate penalty for their negligence in failing to protect me and others from dangers they had long been aware of.

However getting the compensation fund under way is the main event here. In the interests of justice and human compassion, the establishment and viability of the fund has to be the number one criterion for any decision the government takes.

And itís not like our conservative government is famous for sticking to its principles. Ever since, after just one year in power, it ditched its own ministerial code of conduct, our government has been bringing style, grace and above all energy to the dark art of chucking principles overboard.

I also have a sneaking suspicion that if asbestos-related disease disproportionately affected aspirational mortgage-holders, rather than being clustered among ageing building and factory workers, the tax-deductibility principle might be a little less rigidly applied.

So my point is, rather than taking a rigid stand on a point of principle, our government needs to assess whether the compensation fund can be established without concessionary tax treatment. If it canít, then the government needs to act in the interests of Australian asbestos victims.

Comment by woulfe 06.28.06 @ 7:00 pm

@ndy, fair call.

Well said, woulfe.

Comment by weez 06.28.06 @ 8:39 pm

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