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ISSUE 58 page 6

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‘Historic’ verdict sends asbestos bosses to jail for sixteen years

We reported in issue 47 on the trial of two former owners of asbestos manufacturer Eternit in Italy. Over 3,000 deaths were attributed to dust from their factories. Despite the large number of parties to the prosecution, and its consequently complicated nature, Stephan Schmidheiny and Jean-Louis de Cartier were recently convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to jail terms of 16 years each.
 The charges of permanent environmental damage and failure to comply with workplace health and safety regulations arose from practices such as allowing asbestos dust from the factories to blow over nearby countryside and workers to take home roof tiles and empty bags that had contained the substance. As over 1,500 relatives, victims and supporters watched the verdict on large screens outside, the court ordered the defendants to pay a total of €80 million to more than 6,000 people. This includes the sum of €25 million to the town of Casale Monferrato, €20 million to the Piedmont region and €15 million to the state insurance company Inail. Each individual victim will receive €30,000-€35,000 and unions €70,000-€100,000.   While Schmidheiny’s spokesman gave notice that his client would be appealing, prosecution lawyer Sergio Bonetto commented ‘It's a fair verdict which acknowledges their responsibility ... the problem now is to see if the condemned men will face up to their obligations’.  Campaigners in France, where there there have yet to be any major asbestos trials, were heartened by the outcome but victim’s son Piero Ferraris said ‘This trial will go down in history ... but it will not bring my dad back’.
Guaraniello, R

Turin public prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello is besieged by journalists after the verdict



Recent rulings from the European Court of Justice

No limit on successive fixed term contracts if employer can justify them
Annual leave accrual when on sick leave must be limited
In 1999 an agreement between employers and unions at European level became an EU directive. It asked Member States to pass laws limiting the duration and number of renewals of fixed term contracts. It also allowed them to lay down the reasons that would exempt specific cases from these laws. A Ms Kücük fell foul of such an exemption when employed by a court in Cologne, Germany for 11 years on a total of 13 successive fixed term contracts, as German law allows ‘replacement of absent employees’. However she claimed at the ECJ that she should have been automatically converted to a permanent employee as such a large number of temporary jobs over so long a period could not be justified on these grounds. The European court disagreed and decided that there was no limit on the duration and number of such appointments that could be justified as long as the past practice of the employer was taken into account.
In 2009 (see issue 46) the ECJ ruled that workers returning from sick leave could take annual leave that had accrued during their absence from work. If they left their job before returning then equivalent compensation must be paid. In Germany a Mr. Schulte was off work from 2003 to 2008 due to a heart attack and had his employment terminated. In 2009 he claimed payment in lieu of untaken annual leave from 2006 to 2008. His employer, KHS AG, argued that it was not liable for the 2006 leave as the company only allowed staff to carry over leave for 15 months. The court agreed, ruling that carry-over periods must be long enough to enable employees to enjoy a period of relaxation but that unlimited accumulation of annual leave did not achieve this purpose.

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