Wednesday, November 01, 2017

US23.7 million - 486 workers in Taiwan win against employers?

Workers victorious in suit against employer company. Taiwan High Court ordered 4 employer companies to pay a total sum of NT$ 718,400,000 (approximately US$ 23.7 million) in compensation to 486 among the 513 plaintiffs.

'RCA failed to provide adequate protection to workers. Exposure to those chemicals cause health damages, serious illnesses, and even death among RCA’s employees. RCA is thus found responsible for such damages.' 

Why do we not see similar legal suits by workers/unions in Malaysia? Is it the problem with Malaysian Trade Unions and maybe also MTUC - Maybe Malaysian Unions need to 'upgrade' themselves with knowledge and risk taking new actions to better protect and promote worker rights in Malaysia? It is after all not just Collective Bargaining Agreements, occasional 'pickets' and handing over memorandums to the Minister/Prime Minister? It is not about 'earning monies' from workers - when unionist and/or union members charge workers for taking up cases of workers? It is not about making the occasional media statement about issues that appear in the press...A perusal of most past MTUC and National Trade Union actions seem to shock of lack of 'motivation', 'depth' and even creativity...It is always about raising problems and asking government to address them, many a time with no concrete suggestions as to the 'solution' that the unions/workers want. 

What exactly are the Malaysian Trade Union and National Unions really fighting for...what changes in law...what changes in policy...14 million plus workers in Malaysia - but workers/unions have failed to become an effective force, where government and Opposition cannot ignore...or risk being voted out.{Go look at the MTUC website, for example, do we really know what is MTUC struggling for in terms of law/policy changes...concrete law/policy changes? Of late, we know that they are against GST...and is worried about increased cost of living - and the solutions forwarded is simply abolition of GST, and maybe the implementation of a mandatory COLA(Cost of Living Allowance) payable by all employers...But do the Unions even know how many workers are actually earning less than RM1,500 - or even how much will a worker need to survive(without actual examples and/or then can one's lobby for change be effective)...How many workers no more enjoy the right to regular employment? How many on precarious short-term contracts... One may not be able to get national statistics - but surely these information could be obtained from the unionised workers at least...

The MTUC and National Unions need to do much more ...for after all, they represent almost ALL workers(irrespective of the fact they have yet to convice most to become union members).

This case in Taiwan where workers were successful would hopefully inspire or give ideas to local unions/workers - know that there are many rights ...and claims that can be made to get compensation/damages when employers and/or government do things that violate worker and human rights... MTUC should rightfully be in the forefront...or will they continue in the same way as was done since MERDEKA and not improve and become  more effective unions in 2017...

Looking at the law amendments that erodes more worker and union rights...clearly employer(and employer organisations) have been winning ...they seem to be a more effective lobby...Well, MTUC and Trade Unions in Malaysia need to catch up soon or risk being irrelevant number of union membership continues to decline in Malaysia..


By the plaintiffs’ attorneys

Re: RCA Toxic Tort Decision by the Taiwan High Court

October 27, 2017

Today Taiwan High Court has given its verdict on the RCA case. Four defendant companies,Radio Corporation of America, Taiwan, Technicolor (of France), Thomson Consumer Electronics (Bermuda) Ltd., and General Electric Company (GE, of the United States), are found jointly and severally liable for workers’ emotional distress arisen from health risk and damages caused by exposure to chlorinated organic solvents while working at RCA. The four defendant companies are ordered to pay a total sum of NT$ 718,400,000 (approximately US$ 23.7 million) in compensation to 486 among the 513 plaintiffs. Although we still have to wait for the court decision in its entirety on paper in order to know the detailed reasoning of the Court in reaching this decision, some crucial points are mentioned in the press release of the Taiwan High Court:

1. The Court finds that 31 hazardous chemicals including trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) have been used by RCA or were present at the workplace during its operation from 1970 to 1992. Some of these chemicals have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 1, 2, or 3 human carcinogens. In violation of several laws and regulations at that time, RCA failed to provide adequate protection to workers. Exposure to those chemicals cause health damages, serious illnesses, and even death among RCA’s employees. RCA is thus found responsible for such damages.

2. GE, Technicolor, and Thomson (Bermuda) have been found to exercise full control of RCA, Taiwan. During the time when the RCA’s persistent pollution was disclosed, it remitted approximately US$ 150 million abroad, sold its land and buildings to a third party, and subsequently remitted approximately US$ 100 million to a French bank account. These constitute malicious evasion of debt and obligations by RCA and its parent companies. The principle of “piercing corporate veil” thus applies in this case, and GE, Technicolor, and Thomson (Bermuda) are jointly and severally responsible for the tort liability incurred by RCA on the workers.

3. The plaintiffs divided themselves into three groups. Group A are those who had died before the complaint was filed in 2004, Group B are those who had been diagnosed with serious illnesses such as cancer by then, and Group C consists of workers who had not been diagnosed with serious illnesses by then, but have been suffering from emotional distress due to elevated health risks. RCA argues that Group C should not be compensated for merely worry. Rejecting arguments of RCA, the Court finds that the Group C plaintiffs are suffering from bona fide health damages due to exposure to toxic chemicals while working for RCA even though the damages have not yet express itself into perceptible symptoms. The reason for this finding lies with the mechanism of how carcinogens functions. Genotoxic carcinogens start to damage organs and tissues at the time of contact, even though its development into full-blown cancer takes various routs and various length of time. Thus the Court finds the Group C plaintiffs eligible for compensation from RCA.

4. The Court rejected RCA’s statute of limitations defense. Because all information regarding workers’ exposure to organic solvents at the workplace was in the hand of RCA. It is extremely difficult for workers to acquire direct evidences and establish causation between their suffering and wrongdoings of RCA which are strong enough for legal actions. The purpose for statute of limitations is to prevent persons from neglecting their cause of actions. Applying statute of limitation to this case will result in inequitably harsh burden on the plaintiffs.

5. The request of the plaintiffs to the Court for awarding a lump sum compensation to all plaintiffs as a collective is rejected. The Court finds documents submitted by the plaintiffs’ association expressing each individual plaintiffs’ consent for such compensation still fall short of legal requirements. Compensation is therefore still awarded to individual plaintiffs based on individual circumstances, as the District Court did.

While we applaud the correct and progressive legal opinions in the High Court decision, we do so with somequalms.

1) We call upon the defendant companies to pay the court-ordered compensation immediately and urge them not to delay this by appealing any further.

This lawsuit started some ten years ago. By the time workers are prepared enough to file their civil complaint against RCA at Taipei District Court in 2004, 78 workers have already passed away, and 237 people were diagnosed with serious illnesses including cancers. Many have died or seen their health deteriorated and become bed-ridden since then. After the case was rejected on technical ground, it was once again submitted in 2006. The decision came some eight years later, in April 2015 after 58 court hearings. In preparation for the judicial proceedings, more than 250 meetings were held among members of the plaintiffs’ organization, pro bono labor lawyers of the Legal Aid Foundation, and their supporters, including members of Taiwan Association for the Victims of Occupational Injuries, professors and student volunteers from various disciplines. This district-court decision was a partial victory for the plaintiffs, with a compensation of around 56 million ordered by the court.

Unfortunately, the defendant companies appealed the District Court decision. During the appeal trial, RCA spent enormous sums of money to hire expertwitnesses from the US, China, Japan and France to testify at court and to submit written expert opinions. The lawsuit thus lasted another two years, with 33 court sessions.

After the Court finds the defendant companies responsible for the plaintiffs’ pain and suffering once again today, there is no more excuse for them to delay compensation owed to the victims.

2)The plaintiffs’attorneys will discuss with the plaintiffs’ association to decide whether to appeal today’s verdict.

The plaintiffs requested a total of NT$ 2.7 billion for those who already died, those currently suffering from serious illnesses such as cancers and those who suffer chronic psychological distress due to elevated health risk. In comparison with other cases in Taiwan and abroad, the plaintiff’s request for compensation for their pain and suffering is totally justifiable. Considering the large number of victims, persistent violations of laws and regulations by RCA and other defendants, the dumping of organic solvents in the soil, the groundwater pollution yet to be remedied, and other damage to the environment and damages to the health of the employees, the NT$ 718 million awarded by the Court in its decision today falls way short of justice.

The defendants are internationally renowned corporations with vast assets. The amount claimed by the plaintiffsas compensation is only a tiny fraction of the defendants’regular profits;the companies can easily afford it.Thus, after reading the complete judgment, the plaintiffs’ lawyers will discuss with the victims and decide whetherwe need to appeal this case further.

High Court upholds ruling on ex-RCA worker redress

MORE DEFENDANTS:An investigation found that GE took over RCA before selling it, meaning it was in control when the workers said they were exposed to chemicals

By Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter

Former Radio Corp of America (RCA) workers shout slogans with their lawyers, RCA Self-Help Association president Liu Ho-yun, front left, and Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries organizer Liu Nien-Yun, right, in front of the Taiwan High Court in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: Chien Jung-fong, Taipei Times

The Taiwan High Court yesterday upheld a verdict ordering Radio Corp of America (RCA) and its affiliates to pay NT$718.4 million (US$23.7 million) to its former Taiwanese employees and their families.
Yesterday’s ruling increased the compensation from NT$564.45 million in the first ruling in 2015, with stakeholders closely watching the court’s decision in one of the nation’s longest-running legal battles between a major corporation and workers.

RCA, which operated several production plants in Taiwan from 1970 to 1992, was in 1986 taken over by General Electric Co (GE), which later sold it to Thomson Consumer Electronics, the US subsidiary of France-based Thomson Multimedia, which is now called Technicolor SA.

The court included GE, Technicolor and Thomson as defendants, ordering them, along with RCA, to pay compensation to 486 former employees.

In the first ruling, the judges wrote that they were unable to determine whether RCA was a subsidiary of GE, based on RCA’s business registration, and omitted GE as a responsible party.

However, an investigation found that GE took over RCA before selling it to Thomson, which took ownership of an RCA production plant in then-Taoyuan County.

The judges ruled that GE was in control of RCA’s operations in Taiwan during the period in which the workers said chemicals from the plants caused them to develop cancer and other illnesses.

While the plaintiffs were comprised of 486 former employees, yesterday’s ruling said three workers began work at RCA’s Taoyuan plant after 1988, adding that GE would not be required to compensate the three, but would be required to contribute to NT$717.7 million in compensation for the remaining 483 workers.

Members of the RCA Self-Help Association, which represented the workers, yesterday afternoon gathered in front of the High Court’s Taipei branch to hear the decision, smiling and clapping when it was read to them.

They had sought damages of NT$2.7 billion from RCA, GE and Thomson.

RCA operated plants in then-Taoyuan County, as well as Hsinchu and Yilan counties, which employed tens of thousands of people to produce color TVs and other consumer electronics using 31 kinds of organic solvents, including trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethene, exposure to which increases the risk of cancer, the verdict said.

In 1998, the Environmental Protection Administration found that the site of the former RCA plant in Taoyuan was contaminated with chlorinated organic solvents and other toxic chemicals, due to the company illegally digging wells to bury waste, which contaminated tap water used by the workers and nearby residents.

Between 1992, when RCA shut down its plants in Taiwan, and 2004, when 519 members of the association filed the civil lawsuit, more than 1,300 of the firm’s Taiwanese employees have been diagnosed with various types of cancer, with 221 of them dying, the 2015 ruling said.- Taipei Times, 28/10/2017

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