Compensate former dock workers, UK court tells government

on april 4, 2007, the uk Court Of Appeal upheld a high court ruling that gave former dock workers in the country the right to claim compensation from the government for asbestos-related illnesses.

The judgment came after the department of trade and industry (dti) appealed a 2006 high court ruling that the government was responsible for dockers' safety in the 1950s and 1960s. Former dockers Robert Thompson and Winifred Rice, widow of another former docker, both from Lancashire county, had filed the case in the court in 2006.

dti claimed that the former national dock labour boards, started by the government in the late 1940s to organise labourers at ports, weren't employers. They simply hired and arranged labour for shipping companies, it claimed.But John Flanagan of Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support, a Liverpool-based charity said, "These workers made a substantial contribution with back-breaking work on docks all over the uk.'

The first quantitative regulations on dust exposure were put in place in 1969, after many workers had been exposed to high levels of asbestos. The illnesses typically take 30-40 years to manifest and asbestos use was going strong in the 1960s and even the 1970s.

"By the time these men become ill through asbestos, they can't trace and pursue many of the private dock companies that employed them. But the dock labour boards knew they were exposing the men to harm by allowing them to work unprotected,' said Kevin Johnson, a partner at the law firm representing Thompson and Rice.

The ruling is expected to open the floodgates for claims costing the government millions of pounds.