2022 Update from Japans Asbestos Frontline
Campaigners from asbestos victims associations, trade unions and civil society groups are calling on the Japanese Government to rescind a March 27, 2022 deadline after which applications for compensation from some asbestos victims will be disallowed.1 Amongst those who would lose out are people with asbestos-related diseases whose exposure to asbestos was non-occupational such as people who had lived near asbestos-processing factories and relatives of workers who had died from occupationally-caused asbestos-related diseases whose claims had been time barred.
The scheme which is now under threat had been created in 2006 as a result of provisions of the Asbestos Health Damage Relief Act which mandated that a relief benefit mechanism be set up under which uncompensated asbestos claims would be recognized. Successful applicants were awarded a lump sum of 12 million yen (US$104,000) as a special survivor benefit or a survivor's pension of 2.4 million yen (US$21,000) per year. In 2009 and 2011, legislative amendments were passed to extend the original deadline for the submission of claims.
In recent days, calls have been made by the NGO Mesothelioma Support Caravan Corps, the National Network of Mesothelioma, Asbestos-related Disease Victims and Their Families and the Ban Asbestos Network of Japan (BANJAN) for the deadline to be extended.2 Anecdotal evidence has shown that many of those suffering from asbestos-related diseases (ARDs) are now far younger than previously, with cases of ARDs being diagnosed in people in their 30s or 40s. According to a recent survey, 40% of sufferers were in financial distress.3
Queries have been submitted to the Japanese Diet about why the subcommittee responsible for the oversight of this scheme has not revisited this issue in five years.
In the meantime, grassroots groups continue to mobilize support for the injured and highlight the ongoing injustices experienced by those whose lives have been decimated by asbestos.4 The campaigners are calling for:
The ongoing struggle in Japan over the looming deadline and other inequitable anomalies are evidence that the battle for asbestos justice in Japan is yet to be won. Nevertheless, there have been many victories. Last year, the Supreme Court recognized the Governments liability for asbestos injury claims in a landmark ruling. Pursuant to that judgment, on January 19, 2022, a law became operational under which claims could be submitted by asbestos-injured construction workers to a government scheme which awarded compensation dependent on disease type and/or condition via an administrative process without recourse to legal action. Fifty-eight cases of mesothelioma and 19 cases of asbestos-related lung cancer were recognized in February under this scheme; no doubt, there will be many more to come.
March 14, 2022
1 「静かな時限爆弾」アスベスト 古い被害、再び閉ざされる救済
[Silent time bomb old asbestos damage relief [scheme] to be closed again].
2 石綿被害の遺族救済制度、3月末に迫る期限 「申請できる、震えた」[Asbestos damage bereaved Family Relief System due to close at the end of March "Application possible, trembling"]. February 27, 2022.
3 「“中皮腫”が治る時代に」闘病生活を送るアスベスト被害者の訴え [Complaints from living asbestos victims fighting illness in an era when mesothelioma [may be] treatable].
4 中皮腫およびアスベスト関連疾患の犠牲者とその家族の全国ネットワーク [The National Network of Mesothelioma and Asbestos-related Disease Victims and Their Families]. Accessed March 7, 2022.
中皮腫サポートキャラバン 隊 [Mesothelioma Support Caravan Corps.] Accessed March 7,2022.