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Statement on Supreme Court ruling on construction asbestos lawsuit

Kurosawa Koichi
Secretary General
the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren)
May 18, 2021

The First Petty Bench of the Supreme Court (Presiding Justice Miyama Takuya) on May 17 rules that the state and construction materials makers are held responsible for health damage caused by asbestos to workers, including self-employed workers, regarding the period and the reasons for illegality.

The ruling can be highly commended in that it held the state responsible not only for company employees but also for self-employed workers, who the earlier judgments had not recognized as “workers.”

The Supreme Court also said the construction materials makers must share the responsibility for the health damage. It properly acknowledged the victims’ claim that it is difficult for them to prove by themselves the causal relationship between the act of construction materials makers and the damage.

But it is unjust and unconscionable for the top court to reject the claim that the state and the construction materials makers should be held responsible for the damage caused to outdoor workers and to differentiate relief measures according to the length of liability period.

Construction workers filed the asbestos lawsuit in 2008 in the Tokyo District Court, launching a fight demanding an apology, compensation, and elimination of health damage from asbestos. Thirteen years have elapsed since then. The number of plaintiffs is over 900, but about 70 percent of them are dead. The All Japan Construction, Transport and General Unions (CTG, KENKORO) and other Zenroren-affiliated federations have joined these plaintiffs in support of the court struggle winning good rulings in district and high courts. And in the latest court struggle in the Supreme Court, we basically won the victorious ruling even though it contains some unacceptable judgments.

The government must take the Supreme Court ruling seriously and move to out of court agreements to resolve the pending construction asbestos lawsuits around the country. We also demand that the construction materials makers stop trying to defer the lawsuits to sit at the table for out of court agreements.

About 18,000 people have been entitled to asbestos-related compensation. It is predicted that 500 or 600 people will suffer from health damage caused by asbestos each year.

It is essentials to establish a compensation fund for the relief of people whose health has been damaged by construction asbestos so that they will not have to resort to lawsuits.

Zenroren will continue to fight for the relief of all asbestos victims and for a society in which all workers can work free of fears.

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