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HOME  > Past issues  > 2007 June 13 - 19  > Tunnel workers’ court struggle has forced the government to take measures to prevent lung damage
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2007 June 13 - 19 [LABOR]

Tunnel workers’ court struggle has forced the government to take measures to prevent lung damage

June 15, 2007
- Akahata editorial (excerpts)

Moves are underway towards a settlement of the nationwide lawsuits filed by former tunnel workers suffering from pneumoconiosis.

The government, which has denied responsibility for the disease, recently announced that it will take measures to meet plaintiffs’ demand to prevent the disease and seek an out-of-court settlement of the case.

Struggle to restore dignity

Pneumoconiosis is a work-related lung disease caused by inhaling mine dust for a long time. As this incurable disease progresses, patients cannot lie down to sleep or take a bath and have to use oxygen inhaler till they die.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuits are former tunnel construction workers. They engaged in tunnel construction one after another across the country that the government conducted. Having worked for a long time in heavy mine dust under severe working conditions (11 hours a day on average), many of the workers started to suffer from pneumoconiosis when in their 50s and lost their jobs.

By joining in the All Japan Construction, Transport, and General Worker’s Union (Kenkoro), the lung disease patients came to know that they were suffering from a work-related illness and that the government and their employers had completely failed to not only inform them of the disease but also to take any preventive measures.

Since the first lawsuit seeking government responsibility for the disease was filed at the Tokyo District Court in November 2002, similar suits were filed at 10 more district courts by 960 plaintiffs in total. Patients and their families in these court struggles have been seeking to restore their dignity with the hope that they be the last ones to experience such suffering.

Five district courts issued rulings between July 2006 and March 2007 criticizing the government for neglecting to take preventive measures. It was especially significant that they all acknowledged the government failure to require companies to measure mine dust and make an assessment, a prerequisite to maintain a safe working environment. After obtaining construction companies’ apologies and compensation by reaching settlements since 1997, the plaintiffs have mainly demanded that the government enact laws to prevent the lung disease.

The Japanese Communist Party in the Diet has repeatedly exposed tunnel workers’ severe working conditions and called on the government to take effective measures to improve their working environment.

While losing five lawsuits consecutively, the government took a defiant attitude by appealing all of those cases to higher courts. Plaintiffs’ calls and social movements as well as public opinion have forced the government to change its policy.

In negotiations, the government should recognize the severe damages the plaintiffs are suffering, make efforts to meet their demands, and take effective measures to eradicate pneumoconiosis as soon as possible.

Government must protect workers

The government has repeatedly lost lawsuits filed by workers such as by the tunnel workers. The rulings all acknowledged the government failure to use its authority to impose regulations on corporate activities. The root cause of this lies in government policies prioritizing corporate profits over citizens’ health.
- Akahata, June 15, 2007
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