BWI OnLine – April 27, 2009

As 28 April Workers’ Memorial Day Approaches, Canada Continues to Subsidise the Asbestos Lobby

The Canadian government is to further subsidise the Canadian asbestos lobby with “a grant of $250,000 in its 2009 budget” (over US$200,000). It is a continuation of long-time practice by both Liberal and Conservative governments, who have for decades supported asbestos promotion activities in the developing world, both financially and politically, for example hosting receptions at embassies. Below is a Canwest story outlining the Canadian government’s support for the Chrysotile Institute (formally known as the Asbestos Institute).

The Canadian government has long (and wrongly) claimed UN agencies support its “safe use” argument to justify asbestos exports. It even commissioned an expert panel to provide a scientific rationale for the stance.

Unfortunately for the Canadian government, this panel instead agreed with the international agencies and the medical and scientific consensus (if you exclude those with a direct interest in promoting asbestos use).

An Ottawa Citizen editorial takes up the issue. It notes: “For too long the federal government, to its shame, has denied and avoided evidence about the dangers of chrysotile asbestos, a product that Canada mines and exports around the world. The new release of a Health Canada report, documenting as it does a ‘strong relationship’ between lung cancer and exposure to chrysotile asbestos, means the government can rationalize its irresponsible behaviour no longer, and must finally ban these exports. Canada’s reputation as a moral player on the international stage is being jeopardized by its willingness to ship asbestos to some of the poorest parts of the world….

“Canada’s willingness to peddle asbestos to the world’s most vulnerable populations, all for the sake of a few dollars in Quebec, is a long-standing disgrace. The current federal government is notorious for its ability to dismiss empirical data and the counsel of scientific experts, but perhaps the Health Canada report will be one study that even this government will be too embarrassed to ignore.”

Instead, the Canadian government reset its campaign on the pre-panel strategy… suppress the evidence, then lie about the evidence and (after the real panel findings became public) discount the evidence. It went straight back to sponsoring the industry’s global, immoral and life-extinguishing public relations and marketing campaign.

The Health Canada report has been made available on the Rideau Institute website, along with its excellent ‘Exporting harm’ report.

Click here for the Chrysotile asbestos consensus statement and summary, Chrysotile Asbestos Expert Panel and here for the Rideau Institute ‘Exporting harm’ report.


Construction Workers in Hong Kong Successfully Strike for their Back Wages

More than 40 construction workers-fire protection board installers-working at the expansion project of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) went on strike and staged a demonstration on April 7, 2009 in front of the HKCEC site demanding Hip Hing Construction Company Limited, the main contractor, to negotiate for their back wages, amounting to HKD $500,000 (USD $64,500). The HKCEC is managed and operated by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Limited, a subsidiary of the NWS Holdings. Hip Hing Construction Limited is a member of the NWS Holdings. By late evening an agreement was reached with the sub contractors agreeing to pay the workers their due wages which the workers would receive on April 24 at the Labour Department.

It took more than two months and a strike to force the sub contractors to finally pay the fire protection board installers their just wages. In addition, the union is very dismayed that there are more workers at the site who have not received their wages. To date more than 180 construction workers consisting of welders, ventilation pipe installers and surveyors have not received their back wages, totaling HKD $2,400,000 (USD $309,750).

According to Mak Tak Ching, Organizing Director of the Construction Site General Workers Union, “It is rare that there are several incidents of back wage disputes in such a short time at one construction site. This case reflects the lack of supervision and responsibility by both the government and the main contractor.”

The union points out that these are cases in which workers have approached the union and they fear that there may be more incidents which have not been made public. Currently there are 1,000 construction workers employed at the site and at its height the work force was close to 2,000 workers. Because of this, the union has called the Hong Kong government to enact legislation to oblige main contractors to pay construction workers directly to prevent back wages and wage exploitation as a result of the multi-tier subcontracting system.


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