“Very often workers do not have the means to seek legal recourse from large companies which have huge resources at their disposal,” Brislin added. “The Church is always concerned about the well-being of people with whom we work and live. It is thus incumbent on the Church to give assistance where it can so that the rights of the vulnerable are respected and so that they can access compensation that is legally due to them. Many companies are amenable to settling such cases, but in some instances court action is necessary.”

The application states that coal mine dust can lead to lung diseases, such as pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A person with COPD has breathing difficulties and airflow limitations. The application alleges that both diseases are preventable, but miners still contracted them because of inadequate procedures and protections. 

Coal miners who contracted either of these diseases after working in one of South32’s mines would receive payments. Dependents of coal miners who died from one of those illnesses would also receive compensation. The application covers actions from March 12, 1965, until the present.

South32 is a multibillion-dollar metal mining company based in Perth, Australia, that operates in six countries. It has three operations in South Africa. The mining industry employs about half a million people in South Africa and accounts for about 8% of the country’s gross domestic product.

A 65-year-old man who was diagnosed with lung disease after working in one of the mines from 1981 until 2016, Jan Nkosi, said in a statement that he experiences constant chest pain. 

“At night I have to sleep in a particular position to try to relieve the chest pain,” Nkosi, who is named in the application, added. “My coughing and wheezing sometimes wakes me up at night. When I walk quickly it feels like my chest is blocked, and I must stop and rest for a while. When I walk up an incline, I experience chest pain and can only walk very slowly. I often run out of breath.”

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