Action by Injured Shipyard Workers 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Japanese and Canadian shipyard workers are taking action to obtain compensation for asbestos-related injuries sustained during their employment. On March 17, 2007, the Zenchuro trade union, which has 4,000 members at the U.S. Naval Base in Yokosuka Japan, threatened to hold a sit-in unless the status of a shipyard worker with malignant pleural mesothelioma (asbestos cancer) is reclassified. The worker, who has been ill for a year, is currently on “off-duty” medical leave which has significant pecuniary disadvantages compared to “on-duty” medical leave. Negotiations conducted so far by the Navy, the Government of Japan's Defense Facilities Administration Agency and the union have been unproductive; depending on the result of a further meeting this week, the union will decide whether to hold a sit-in at the base.1

Canadian shipyard workers in Newfoundland with asbestos-related diseases have, through their trade union, filed compensation claims with the Workplace Health Safety and Compensation Committee. It is alleged that seven cases of lung cancer and eight cases of gastrointestinal cancer were caused by work at the Marystown shipyard.2 Trade unionist Nick DeCarlo from the Canadian Auto Workers Union said that as extensive amounts of asbestos was used for insulation in the ships it is likely that even more cases will be uncovered amongst the workforce. Accepting that more research should be done, DeCarlo emphasized the urgency to do something for the injured now: “we decided to start filing claims rather than wait for another study,” he said. A response from the Committee on the union's request for additional funds for evaluating workers' health is expected this month.

Update: April 6, 2007

On March 21, 2007, the U.S. Navy announced that a settlement had been reached whereby the illness of this employee is being characterized as "duty connected." This finding means that the asbestos-injured worker will receive full seasonal allowances and up to three years of sick leave from April 2006. The Navy's Press Release #R-07-06 pointed out that this is not a precedent and that "any future cases will go through the same thorough process, as each case is different."

March 22 / April 6, 2007


1 Stars & Stripes. Japanese labor union threatens sit-in at Yokosuka. March 17, 2007.

2 Canadian Occupational Health & Safety News. Shipyard workers complain of illness from asbestos. March 7, 2007.



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