Today’s profit announcement by James Hardie shows the company is making more than enough money to fully compensate the victims of the company’s deadly asbestos products.

Commenting on the profit announcement this morning ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said:

“James Hardie today announced a first quarter profit of US$37 million – a 25% rise. They predict an annual profit of up to US$169 or around $240 million Australian dollars.

With current compensation requirements for Australian victims running at around $70 million a year, this shows there is more than enough to provide full compensation as well as provide a return to shareholders.

In light of today’s announcement of improved profits, it is thoroughly immoral for James Hardie to continue to deny proper compensation for victims of the company’s asbestos products. These victims are dying a painful death from mesothelioma.

A NSW Government Inquiry has found there is a shortfall of up to $2 billion in the fund set up by the James Hardie company to compensate victims of its deadly asbestos products. Even if the company protests that it did not know the compensation fund it set up would fall short, it now has no excuses for not allocating extra funds for victims’ compensation.

The company should act immediately to provide a guarantee to the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation so that all current and future victims will receive full compensation.

It is a national tragedy that Australia has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world – an incurable and deadly cancer caused by asbestos. There are now more than 500 Australians each year contracting the terminal disease and the numbers are rising. In all, as many as 18,000 Australians are likely to fall victim to mesothelioma. Many more are also likely to suffer other asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and asbestosis.

Three years ago James Hardie relocated its business to the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a country without a legal treaty with Australia that would allow asbestos victims to enforce their claim for compensation in a Netherlands court.

The upcoming Annual General Meeting of the company provides an opportunity for James Hardie shareholders to take the Directors of the company to task.

An information session for Australian investors is to be held 15 September and the AGM is to be held in the Netherlands on 17 September. The ACTU calls on James Hardie shareholders to attend these events and call on the Board of Directors to meet all compensation requirements for asbestos victims.

The Federal Government should also reform Australia’s corporations law so that the ‘corporate veil’ can no longer be used by James Hardie and other companies to avoid their legal liabilities to employees and the community for compensation or workers’ entitlements.

It is also time for Australia’s business leaders to condemn attempts by James Hardie to evade paying full compensation and to support moves to lift the ‘corporate veil’ in such cases.”