Unions in the United States are set to lend their support to the campaign by Australian unions and asbestos sufferers groups to make James Hardie guarantee full compensation to Australian victims of its asbestos products.

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said:

“We welcome the support of US unions in our campaign to make James Hardie face up to its responsibilities to Australian victims of its asbestos products. The US is a critical market for James Hardie and it is important that US unions and consumers are made aware of the appalling way this company has treated Australian asbestos victims.

“US unions and community groups will hold a protest rally outside James Hardies American headquarters in Mission Viejo, Orange County, California on Wednesday (Thursday in Australian time).

The US protest coincides with a national day of action by Australian unions and asbestos groups tomorrow (Wednesday) who will hold rallies around the country and make their presence felt at James Hardies Australian Shareholders Information Meeting at Sydney’s Darling Harbour Convention Centre.

Australian unionists and asbestos groups will also be present at the companies Annual General Meeting in the Netherlands on September 17.

Many Australian building workers, municipal councils and consumers are already boycotting the use of James Hardie products in protest against the company’s actions.

More than 80% of James Hardie’s earnings now come from the sale of building products to the US market. US unions will use Wednesday’s protest to alert the North American labour movement, public and consumers to concerns about James Hardies treatment of Australian asbestos victims.

James Hardie predicts an annual profit this year of up to $240 million Australian dollars – this is well above current compensation requirements of around $70 million a year for Australian victims.

A NSW Government Inquiry has found there is a shortfall of up to $2 billion in the fund set up by James Hardie to compensate victims of its deadly asbestos products. Australia has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world – an incurable and deadly cancer caused by asbestos with more than 500 Australians each year contracting the disease.

James Hardie has recently announced that it will not present its annual accounts to shareholders at its AGM. The decision follows a campaign by unions and asbestos groups who wrote to fund managers and shareholders asking them to vote against the adoption of the accounts as they made no provision for future asbestos liabilities James Hardie has recently admitted it will need to meet.

The actions in the US and in the Netherlands show there is nowhere in the world that James Hardie can hide. James Hardie needs to make an unconditional commitment to fund all its current and future Australian asbestos liabilities and until they do we will be putting pressure on them wherever in the world they go.”