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PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM
23 May 2000
ASBESTOS ACTION PLAN & DISCUSSION WITH FISHING INDUSTRY REPRESENTATIVES
Action Plan to Address the Effects of Asbestos Mining, Manufacture and Use
(September 1999) [email email@example.com for document]
This meeting was actually two back-to-back meetings. In the first, the committee heard reports from departments tasked with implementing the Action Plan generated by the 1998 Asbestos Summit. In the second, the committee heard inputs from representatives of companies and associations in the fishing industry concerning developments in marine and coastal management.
Departmental report-backs on the asbestos action plan:
Invitations had been extended to nine departments to discuss their progress on the Asbestos Action Plan. The departments were: Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT); Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF); Labour; Minerals and Energy (DME); Health and Safety; Housing; Welfare; Trade and Industry; Science and Technology; Justice. However, only four departments responded positively and attended the meeting. These were: DEAT, DWAF, DME, and Labour. Chair Gwen Mhlangu found this quite disappointing, since the issue is one that crosses all line-functions.
Ms. Mhlangu began the meeting by providing some background: the National Asbestos Summit (NAS) was held in November 1998, and was attended by experts, industry, government departments and representatives from neighboring countries. The summit produced a set of recommendations which was forwarded to the DEAT. The DEAT in turn formulated an Action Plan which identified which recommendations could be acted upon by that department, and which should properly fall to other departments.
The current meeting was intended to provide the Portfolio Committee with a sense of what each department had accomplished and what the obstacles are.
The Department had received comments on the Action Plan from the DWAF and DME, and has incorporated them in a cabinet memo.
A national asbestos database has been set up, which identifies the most contaminated areas and specifies a program for rehabilitation. The DEAT was also charged with implementing the rehabilitation program, in collaboration with the DME. Rehabilitation has in fact been going on since 1986, and is about half completed. However, the program lacks a budget - a rehabilitation fund is needed.
In the discussion it was clarified that the mines in question are those for which owners cannot be traced (derelict owners), and that the Atmospheric Protection Act calls for the government to rehabilitate these mines. A consultant has been retained to liaise with affected communities and to assess the hazards to workers involved in the rehabilitation work.
1) The Department of Labour was charged with reviewing the compensation system. It determined that the backlog of unprocessed claims was caused by a centralized system with all claims being received in Pretoria. This could be remedied by decentralizing the payment system. Information technology (IT) systems for each province will be in place by the end of this year.
There was a cabinet decision that the respective compensation funds of the Departments of Minerals and Energy, Health, and Labor, be integrated. A task team has been appointed to implement this.
2) The department was active on a Task Force to review and consolidate the regulatory framework for asbestos. Amended regulations will be promulgated by the end of the year.
3) It also served on a Task Force to develop guidelines for the rehabilitation of asbestos mining areas. The initiative is now with the communications department that will produce a more user-friendly document.
In the discussion it emerged the compensation scheme only covers registered workers, not their families or communities, even though the latter have been affected. The major problem, however, has been one of awareness: whether even those who are eligible to claim compensation are aware of this right. Provincial health care facilities are available to provide medical examinations and forward recommendations to the medical bureau of Occupational Health. These facilities are available also to retired workers who may only now be exhibiting symptoms. Since there is scientific evidence linking exposure to asbestos with certain respiratory diseases, all that is needed is proof of the number of years one worked in the mines. The recommendation may also be obtained from a private doctor of one's own choice. Another resource is the Industrial Health Research Group - an NGO at UCT - which has extensive training in reading x-rays with respect to asbestos exposure.
It was agreed that this issue of awareness would be taken to the Compensation Commissioner for incorporation in the strategic plan.
Mineral Affairs and Energy
The Department is the lead organization on the Task Force for developing guidelines for the rehabilitation of asbestos mining areas. A first draft of the guidelines is currently available for internal discussion.
The other tasks assigned to the DME include budgeting, liaising with communities, prioritizing affected areas as described in the asbestos database, and exploring alternative technologies for rehabilitation. Work in these areas is ongoing, and the rehabilitation should be complete within 10-15 years.
Committee members were frustrated that the DME was unable to provide a more specific time-frame for these tasks, as it hampered their ability to assess progress. It was also disturbing that there seemed to be a disagreement between the DME on the one hand, and the MECs on the other, about whether or not communities had been involved. This matter will be referred to the Minister of Minerals and Energy. EU funds could also be used for retaining independent assessors - in the opinion of the Chair, the matter has been going on for far too long.
Water Affairs is involved in this issue because Section 20 of the Environmental Conservation Act charges it with the disposal of waste. Although this excludes the waste from mines, it does include the "grave-side" of asbestos use: the demolition of buildings and the disposal of asbestos. The department is also involved in the exploration of alternative technologies and the impact on water. Asbestos is in fact not harmful while it is water-borne; however, it may be carried by water and become harmful again once the water dries up and the fibres become air-borne. This is documented in the South African Water Quality Guidelines.
After the report-backs, Ms. Mhlangu urged the members to make recommendations for solutions, and asked for suggestions for a way forward. The following was proposed: regular progress reports from the DME; increased emphasis on budgeting for environmental functions within each department; co-ordination or roles and responsibilities; awareness campaigns; preparation of business plans.
The Committee Chair said that the matter would be taken forward and Parliament would be sensitized to these developments.
Meeting with representatives from the fishing industry:
This was the last in a series of meetings with stakeholders to discuss problems in the fishing industry. The Committee Chair asked for input for overcoming practical impediments to implementing the National Marine Living Resources Act, rather than a list of complaints. She asked that the representatives offer suggestions for long-term solutions based on love of the country rather than the interests of a particular company. The aim of the meeting was to stabilize the industry and move away from crisis management.
The inputs focused on the issue of quota allocations, and particularly on the need for stability of these rights. New entrants to the industry can hardly be expected to make the necessary investments without the assurance of long-term fishing rights. Similarly, sectors such as pelagic fishing are capital intensive and thus depend on having sizable quotas. Thus, in the view of some, transformation of the industry is not necessarily aided by cuts in fishing quotas.
Others, however, insisted that these cuts in quotas would have to happen for SMMEs (small, medium and micro enterprises) to become integrated, and urged large companies to address the issue of how they might fit in with the transformation process. One suggestion was a National Fishing Negotiating Forum, which would include both large companies and coastal communities.
The Food and Allied Workers Union, on the other hand, felt that too much emphasis was being placed on the issue of quotas. The Union believes that small quotas is not the answer and that the industry offers other opportunities to alleviate poverty within the fishing community. Examples are the transformation of the shareholder base of large companies, and using the Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act. Business, government and labor should enter into a process for discovering viable options, rather than a continued confrontation between communities and business.
There were several calls for impact studies that would analyze job loss and creation in each company.
There was also concern about the need for a clear procedure for joint ventures between small and large companies - a need expressed by both small and large companies alike - and there was a proposal from Sea Harvest Fishing to set up a development service which would bring big and small players together in the hake industry.
Overall, there was consensus that stability depends on having a clear vision of where the industry is going , as well as a clear strategy for how to implement the Act. Processes for monitoring and inspecting are crucial to this effort. There was some feeling that expert help was needed both in interpreting the Act and to enhance the finance and manpower of the Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) staff complement.
Many of the companies or associations forwarded written proposals and/or documentation.
Ms. Mhlangu concluded the meeting by affirming that a unified approach is needed and that she does not see poverty and business as opposing interests. She acknowledged the need for sizable quotas, based on benchmark figures from other countries. She proposed meeting with the department on these issues. Each input would be processed, and a similar meeting would take place with MCM next month. Further comments can be forwarded to P.O. Box 15 or Room V218.
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