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Number of Queenslanders diagnosed with black lung soars

CFMEU Mining and Energy protest at BHP in Melbourne 2-19
A CFMEU Mining and Energy protest outside of BHP's Melbourne headquarters in February 2019.

An industry body mainly representing coal mine workers is devastated to learn the number of Queenslanders diagnosed with black lung disease has reached an all-time high.

More than 100 Queenslanders now suffer from mine dust lung diseases, such as black lung and silicosis, according to the mining and energy division of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

CFMEU called the trend a “shameful milestone” and blamed inadequate processes to diagnose workers for hiding the true number of black lung victims, which he thinks is much higher.

“Factors such as the use of labour hire firms, with employees cycling through different mining sites, and a fear among casual workers that they will lose their job if they are diagnosed, means that we are only scratching the surface of the mine dust disease epidemic,” CFMEU Mining & Energy Queensland district president Stephen Smyth said in a public statement.

“Sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and there are many more victims of mine dust diseases that we don’t even know about.”

The remarks come after members of the Mine Dust Victim’s Group in February visited BHP’s head office in Melbourne to ask for a one cent levy per tonne per week on Queensland coal production, to fund long-term support for victims and their families.

CFMEU is accusing BHP of having the highest number of cases where employees have been diagnosed with dust disease to date. BHP representatives did not to meet with the group members.

Mackay black lung patient Steve Mellor said the existing medical treatment provided in Australia is simply not good enough.

“They don’t treat us,” Mellor said in a statement. “They just tell you to go away and die.”

Former coal miner and Queensland State MP Jim Pearce said mine dust victims will not accept mining giants that choose to ignore black lung victims while reaping “enormous profits” from their workers.

“BHP made a staggering $12.2 billion profit in 2018,” Pearce said in a statement. “Despite this, BHP does next to nothing to support employees who contract potentially deadly and debilitating mine dust diseases while working in their mines.”

BHP produced an attributable 60 million tonnes of coal in 2018 according to the CFMEU.

“Queensland Coal revenue increased from US$3.35b to US$3.77b and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) profit from US$1.5b to US$1.8b,” research director Peter Colley said in a statement. “NSW Energy Coal had increased revenue – US$799m, up from US$750m – but lower EBITDA profit – declining from US$304m to US$229m. That’s still a lot of profit from one mine – Mt Arthur Coal – in the Hunter Valley.”

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