Building and Wood
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The decision of the Quebec government to provide a 58 million dollar loan guarantee to reopen the Jeffrey asbestos mine has shocked and saddened victims of asbestos diseases, trade unions and public health officials world –wide. The loan will allow the Balcorp consortium, led by Baljit Chada, with their private finance of 25 million dollars to produce around 200 thousand metric tonnes per year for at least the next 25 years. The main markets will be in Asia, with India as the biggest asbestos consumer.
The industry and the government of Quebec insists that they will guarantee that health and safety standards are in place to use asbestos safely in all importing countries. No one can believe this assertion. It is well known that exposure to asbestos causes cancer and that exposure is almost impossible to control even in a sophisticated factory environment. H&S standards in the asbestos cement plants are bad in India and the region, and when the products leave the factories and are used in the construction sector, building workers and consumers will have little or no protection from the deadly diseases it causes. Informal work and rudimentary development of the construction sector means that even obvious and preventable hazards, such as falls, scaffold collapses and trench collapses are a routine occurrence. Occupational health of building workers is simply not addressed.
Clearly, avoiding the use of asbestos and using safer materials is the answer. This is the position of the International Labour Organisation, the World Health Organisation, the International Security Association, countless professional health and labour organisations, and more than fifty governments that have already completely banned the use of asbestos. In several countries, affiliated trade unions are actively working on National Action Plans for the Elimination of Asbestos Diseases (NPEAD), which aims to achieve a ban on asbestos, use of safe building materials and management of existing asbestos in buildings.
Ambet Yuson, BWI General Secretary is calling for action: "The BWI and its affiliates will continue to support affiliates in Asia to fight the continued use of deadly asbestos materials. This Quebec loan has been under discussion for almost two years. In December 2010 the BWI World Board issued a statement that was sent to the governments of Canada and Quebec, as well as international organisations. We also sent a delegation from India to Quebec to meet with Trade Unions, Health officials, and industry and government representatives to explain our position, and we have kept up the pressure through our campaigning activities. We urge the Quebec government reconsider its decision and cancel the loan guarantee. We believe these funds should instead be directed to projects to help the asbestos mining communities in Quebec to diversify their economic base."
He announced that the BWI will now step up campaigning activities. Already, BWI affiliates are writing to Canadian embassies and High Commissions and their national governments and are planning demonstrations. Stand by for solidarity actions in the coming weeks.