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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 October 2006, 07:55 GMT 08:55 UK
Wales: Miners' compensation
Dawn Evans
Dawn Evans
The Politics Show Wales

Mine works
Surface workers feel unfairly treated

Almost a decade ago The UK Government started the largest compensation scheme of its kind for underground workers.

In 2006, the amount of compensation paid to sick miners and their families passed 3bn - over 5m paid to workers in Wales.

But those who worked on the surface of mines have not been able to claim a penny.

Edgar James is one of the workers.

He worked on the surface at Onllwyn washery for most of his life. He was in daily contact with coal dust. For over a decade, he has suffered from chronic bronchitis and emphysema and at 68 is disabled by his illness.

But despite his illness he cannot claim compensation under the UK government's scheme.

A DTI promise fails

Malcolm Wicks
Malcolm Wicks insists the DTI's compensation does not necessarily cover all coal workers

The government once promised to change that.

In 2000, the Department of Trade and Industry put forward a statement to parliament. It accepted it was unjust to keep surface workers out of the compensation scheme.

It said: "British Coal did not fully meet its responsibilities to certain workers... acceptance of this liability will mean that... men who have only worked on the surface will be able to put in a claim".

But six years on, surface workers are still waiting for compensation.

This year, the DTI's Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks, said that they had not made "an open-ended admission of blanket liability".

The minister said that its announcement six years ago was only the start, and not the end.

According to Malcolm Wicks the Governments medical research has shown that levels of dust on the surface "would be very unlikely to lead" to pulmonary disease.

An injustice

Don Touhig
Don Touhig is standing firm in his support for surface workers' compensation

It also said that it cannot pay out compensation on political and moral grounds alone.

However the former Wales Office Minister, Don Touhig, said that he did not believe that it was just to deny compensation to surface workers.

"If he's had his entire working life on the surface and is still suffering as a result of dust inhalation and so on, he doesn't qualify. Now that is bonkers, as far as I'm concerned. I strongly believe that we should compensate these surface workers," he insisted.

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