Government amends legislation concerning compensation for victims of asbestos poisoning among Okinawan employees on U.S. bases

August 27, 2011 Ryukyu Shimpo

The government will provide compensation for the families of local employees whose health was affected by asbestos and who left their jobs on U.S. bases before Okinawa was returned to Japan on May 15, 1972. This measure was set in place on August 26 by means of a notice from the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare. The government was effectively responding to the new Act on Asbestos Health Damage Relief that was approved at the Upper House plenary session the same day. Hiroshi Zamami, the secretary-general of the Okinawa district of the All Japan Garrisons Forces Labor Union, was pleased with the measure, saying, “We have been concerned about the issue of compensation for former base workers employed on the bases before Okinawa’s reversion to Japan. We are delighted that the Government has instituted the appropriate measures into law.”

Claims for compensation on patients who died from asbestos poisoning but were unaware of the cause of their ill-health had a five-year period of statute of limitations, but the amendment law extends that time limit after death to ten years for the families of deceased patients. Based on this new law, Okinawa military base employees are included in the relief measures prescribed by Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare notice.

According to Masako Zamami, the chief counselor of the Center for Unemployed Workers of U.S. Bases in Okinawa and the person responsible for giving advice on situations in which the employees on bases had their health damaged by asbestos, there were five consultations either from workers who ceased working on a base before Okinawa was returned to Japan, or from the families of such people. Their claims were rejected because the employer had been the United States Government. Zamami said, “There are many former base workers who gave up on claims because the Japanese Government told them that they were not covered, and also many families of deceased base workers who never knew that it was an asbestos-related disease. We must strive to find these victims and their families so we can help them.”

(English Translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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