French Polynesians who worked on nuclear Pacific test sites are greatly disappointed the Employment Court has again deferred a hearing into compensation for sick workers.
The court has postponed the date at which the French government will respond to allegations by eight former workers and widows that their illnesses were a result of nuclear fallout.
Association Moruroa e Tatou (Moruroa and Us), which represents 4000 former workers of Moruroa and Faungataufa atolls, says many of its members suffer leukaemia, thyroid cancer, cardiovascular problems and skin disease as a result of three decades of testing. Some had children who died soon after birth or who are ill today. Many hundreds of former workers have since died. French Polynesia has three times the rate of thyroid cancer than other comparable Pacific populations.
Three former workers with leukaemia and the widows of five who have died are disputing a ruling by French Polynesia’s Social Provident Fund that their illnesses are not occupational diseases. The workers’ action is supported by Christian World Service, a long-time friend of Muroroa e Tatou. CWS recently sent funds to help the association’s legal costs and is collecting donations for this cause.
In June, the Employment Court president ruled the French had to submit depositions by September 15 to prepare for pleadings at the end of the year. However, on September 15, the president authorized another deferment of proceedings to October 20.
It is the latest in a litany of deferments and breaches of deadline by the French.
“We are very disappointed that the hearing on September 15 decided to postpone again,” says association coordinator John Doom, also a World Council of Churches president.
“The reason given by the French lawyers is that our lawyer continues to send them lot of documents (which) they don’t have time to analyse. We don't understand their arguments.
“It is clear to us that they don’t have the arguments to contest what our lawyer presented. Well, we will wait for the next round on October 20.”
John hopes the success of some French army veterans will pave the way for victory for the Polynesian workers. In France, several veterans of nuclear tests have won suits for the same types of illnesses - leukaemia and other cancers of the blood.
Association president Roland Oldham says the association wants the state and France to recognise their responsibilities to the workers and their families.
“Once again, the former workers of Moruroa endure arguments from the French about the harmlessness of the nuclear tests. The objective of the (French) Ministry for Defense is clearly to discourage the victims of the nuclear tests, in France as in Polynesia,” says Roland.
France maintains the diseases of former Moruroa workers and French army veterans are not the result of nuclear tests. “Do they want to make us believe that the atomic bombs of our military engineers were safe, unlike the bombs of America, Britain, Russia or China?
“Moruroa E Tatou will again present forces on October 20 to show the determination of the victims of the nuclear tests that justice is done,” Roland says.
France conducted 41 atmospheric tests at Moruroa and Faungataufa from 1966-1974 and 134 underground tests from 1975-1996. The eight former workers – the most ill of the former workers - each seek NZ$358,000 compensation. If successful, the association hopes at least another 300 workers will be eligible for payment.
By Sandra Cox Media Officer, CWSChristian World Service supports Moruroa e Tatou. It has contributed to the association’s legal fund and accepts donations for the association’s work.