Former tunnel workers stricken by lung disease from working on government projects reached a negotiated settlement Monday on a series of lawsuits.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his sympathy as he met with about 20 of the former workers at his official residence and promised a swift resolution.
“Four years have passed since the lawsuit was filed and I believe you must have gone through a lot of hardship,” Abe said. “I have concluded that this must be resolved soon.
“Your long years of work in tunnel construction have contributed to the nation’s development,” he said. “I would like to express my sympathy to all patients and family members, as well as my condolences to the deceased and their bereaved relatives.
After the meeting, Abe told reporters, “I would like to make necessary revisions to the current system and implement concrete measures in a visible manner,” providing no details.
Some 970 plaintiffs have filed damages suits with 11 district courts since November 2002. The Tokyo District Court and four others have found the government negligent and ordered official compensation.
Government officials and plaintiffs’ representatives signed the settlement in the afternoon.
The formal conclusion will come Wednesday at the Tokyo High Court. Similar actions are expected at other courts. The suits are pending at four high courts and 10 district courts.
Lawmakers of the Liberal Democratic Party and its ruling coalition partner, New Komeito, mediated consultations between the plaintiffs and the government.
Under the settlement, the government will take tougher preventive measures against pneumoconiosis, including making it mandatory to assess the density of dust at tunnel construction sites and shortening work hours.
In return, the plaintiffs will give up the right to claim a combined 3.2 billion yen in damages for their suffering.
Many of the plaintiffs worked at tunnel sites for railroads, highways and dams during Japan’s years of high economic growth and bubble economy period.
They either lost their jobs after developing the disease or became ill after retiring.
Pneumoconiosis is an occupational disease usually contracted by prolonged exposure to dust, which hardens and eventually kills cells in the lungs. Some people develop the disease 10 years or more after initial exposure.
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