Human rights law firm Richard Spoor Inc (RSI) has filed an application for certification for a class action against the Exxaro Group.
The company yesterday announced that it had launched the third in its series of class actions against coal mining giants in ongoing efforts to seek justice for workers facing unacceptable conditions within the coal mining industry.
The law firm previously initiated class actions against the South32 Group, including BHP Billiton and Seriti Power, as well as against Anglo American and Thungela.
The class action against the Exxaro Group, filed by lawyer Richard Spoor in the Gauteng Division of the High Court of South Africa on November 8, 2023, sought accountability for alleged breaches of legal duties, negligence, and inadequate safety measures that have caused long-term damages to workers' health and lives.
Legal team consultant, Michael Elsner said for over five decades Motley Rice had fought for causes and not simply cases.
"The plight of sick workers has long been a cause we care for deeply. We are honoured to share our experiences and assist coal miners and their families in their fight for justice,” Elsner said.
The RSI said it remained committed to addressing historical wrongs and advocating for the rights and well-being of mineworkers.
RSI, together with the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, conducted a comprehensive investigation into the working conditions within the coal mining industry, interviewing mine workers suffering from coal mine dust lung disease (CMDLD) such as pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) due to exposure to coal mine dust in mines. COPD is characterised by breathing difficulty and airflow limitations. Both pneumoconiosis and COPD caused by coal dust are wholly preventable diseases.
The class action aims to represent coal miners who have suffered health complications directly linked to their work conditions.
RSI alleged that, akin to the South32 Group and Anglo American Group, Exxaro failed to implement necessary safety measures, resulting in avoidable harm to their employees.
The legal action sought compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and the pain and suffering endured by affected coal miners.
Langutani Elias Zitha, who worked at a mine owned by Exxaro between 1992 and 2014 was diagnosed with coal mine dust lung disease in the form of pneumoconiosis, and this has impacted his life significantly.
“I cannot perform exercise. I am breathless when walking quickly or at an incline. I wake up from coughing and wheezing. When I cough, I often bring up phlegm.”
“My health is very bad. I am unable to perform odd jobs. I constantly feel pain. I can feel that I am deteriorating,” Zitha said.
Exxaro hosted an annual Sustainability Summit addressing health and safety issues with employees, and in 2009, stakeholders devised a plan to hold bad safety performance to account. They outlined five key pillars: incredible leadership in driving safety, safety communication, safety training, risk management, and zero tolerance.
RSI said while acknowledging the value of having policies on paper, through this legal action, they sought to ensure these policies were put into practice, and that the mining industry as a whole reassessed their practices and prioritised the safety and welfare of their workforce.
Exxaro could not be reached for comment by the time of going to print.