Outrage over Retrograde Plans by French Government
[September 17, 2021: See update at end of article]
No system is perfect and the French Asbestos Victims Compensation Scheme (Le Fonds d'Indemnisation des Victimes de l'Amiante/FIVA) is no exception. Despite its shortcomings, however, for over twenty years it has given a visibility to the problem created by decades of widespread and unregulated asbestos use in France as well as provided a fairly straightforward process by which claimants could access compensation without resort to litigation. If the Government has its way, FIVA will soon lose both its identity and independence via a merger with the National Compensation Scheme for Medical Accidents (L'Office National d'Indemnisation des Accidents Médicaux/ONIAM).
As news of the planned merger and the reorganization which would be entailed were kept a closely guarded secret, the June 30, 2021 release of a 319-page report1 detailing the proposal came as a shock to stakeholders including the administrators of FIVA as well as officials at ANDEVA, an umbrella group representing local asbestos victims groups in France. The lack of consultation and speed with which the plan was to be rolled out the new body would be operational as of January 1, 2023 were met with hostility from all representatives of associations and trade unions on the board of directors of Fiva.2
According to the French Democratic Confederation of Labour, the lack of transparency generated:
a climate of concern and mistrust about the real intentions of the Government with regard to compensation for asbestos victims in France. Concern reinforced by the fact that the authors, in their oral presentation [on July 2, 2021], essentially asserted that asbestos will soon be a problem of the past and that there will soon be fewer victims to compensate.3
A July 9 ANDEVA press release was highly sceptical of the promises made for the super-organism created by the mergerabsorption, questioning reassurances that the product of this fusion would both improve efficiency as well as the quality of service to victims. ANDEVA pointed out that FIVA and ONIAM had different sources of funding, different case management protocols and different criteria for compensation. The communique accused the Government of wanting to turn the page on asbestos victims and send them back to a bygone past. Pledging the commitment of the organization to contest this inequity in collaboration with allies in government, trade unions, labor federations and social partners,4 ANDEVA concluded:
The creation of Fiva was a social breakthrough. We can criticize it and make suggestions to improve it. But its disappearance would be a considerable setback. Andeva will not agree to it being challenged.
Work has already begun by those determined to retain FIVA in its current form; discussions and consultation are taking place via formal and informal channels of communication with an extraordinary meeting of the FIVA Board of Directors scheduled for next month (August, 2021).
July 19, 2021
Update (September 17 2021)
On September 10, 2021, it was announced that the French Government had cancelled plans to merge the Asbestos Compensation Scheme (FIVA) and the Medical Accident Compensation Scheme (ONIAM). As a result of a rebellion by asbestos victims’ groups, trade unionists, politicians and civil society stakeholders, the project was abandoned and will not be included in the next Social Security financing bill. Objections raised included the adverse impact that the merger could have on the speed with which claims brought by dying victims would be recognized and compensated.5
1 This report was written by personnel from the Inspection Générale des Affaires Sociales (General Inspectorate of Social Affairs/IGAS) and the Inspection générale des finances (General Inspectorate of Finance/IGF).
2 Projet de fusion Fina-Oniam: la menace dune liquidation du Fonds dindemnisation des victimes de lamiante se precise [Fina-Oniam merger project: The threat of liquidation of the Asbestos Compensation Fund is emerging]. July 9, 2021.
3 Victimes de lAmiante: Projet de Fusion du FIVA et de LONIAM: La CFDT Alerte! [Victims of Asbestos: Project to Merge FIVA and ONIAM: the CFDT Alert!] July 2, 2021.
Fusion FIVA-ONIAM, rejet unanime: la CGT dénonce avec la plus grande fermeté cette decision [FIVA-ONIAM merger, unanimous rejection: the CGT strongly denounces this decision]. July 8, 2021.
4 Fusion Fiva-oniam, une opération denfumage pour réduire les indemnisations [Fusion Fiva-oniam, a smokescreen operation to reduce compensation]. July 9, 2021.
5 Fonds d'indemnisation amiante: le projet de fusion avec l'Office d'indemnisation des accidents médicaux abandonné [Asbestos compensation fund: the proposed merger with the Medical Accident Compensation Office abandoned]. September 11, 2021.