In one of her first acts as justice minister, Tzipi Livni established a committee tasked with recommending to the state a global compensation scheme for employees of the Atomic Energy Commission who have become ill from work-related health risks.
The panel will be headed by former deputy Supreme Court president Eliezer Rivlin and will designate criteria for compensating those employees who suffer from work related cancers.
There is significant controversy, however, regarding the true reasons behind the creation of the committee.
Lawyer Ilan Kaner, who represents 118 former employees who sued the state over their illnesses about one-and-a-half years ago, said the true purpose might be to reduce the possible NIS 1 billion in damages that the state might otherwise be forced to pay in court.
According to Kaner, the litigation reached an advanced stage that led to settlement negotiations, which in turn revealed that the 118 plaintiffs might only be the tip of the iceberg for future state liability on the issue.
Kaner said, “We said already 15 years ago that the correct way would be legislated compensation in place of being dragged around and exposed publicly in court.
“We are very cautious,” he added. “We have bad experiences with all sorts of similar commissions that were established in the past. There have been bad and tough obstacles placed in front of the sick persons and their families.
There have been despicable acts along the way.”
Still, Kaner essentially agreed with part of a Justice Ministry’s statement, which said “there is a hope” that the committee will be able to provide an “appropriate, equal and prompt response to future cases” involving sick employees.
Kaner said there was a “50/50” chance the committee would prove to be a positive development. The committee will include top experts in science, law, economics and medicine, including deans of universities and one of Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein’s top deputies.
A statement released by the Justice Ministry said that statistics had not shown any greater ratio of cancer among Atomic Energy Commission employees than within Israel as a whole.
Still, said the statement, the sensitivity of the issue both in terms of maintaining secrecy and granting relief to employees in some instances, even where they might not get relief in court, had motivated the committee’s creation.
Former minister and atomic energy head Dan Meridor had recommended to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and former justice minister Yaakov Neeman to establish a committee like the one being established by Livni to compensate employees, even where the legal connection between the illness and the employee’s work might be insufficient to be awarded damages in court.
Critically, Meridor had recommended that an independent commission formulate options to give the process increased credibility with the general public.
Kaner responded dismissively to some of the state’s claims and rationales.
He said it was a “ridiculous claim” that the ratio of radiation- related cancer was not higher among the commission’s former employees than in Israel as a whole, noting that with some groups of employees “more than 50 percent of them” are ill with cancer.
Kaner added that the committee only includes one doctor and has a distinctly economic focus, which shows that the committee is more concerned with the financial aspect of the situation and how much money the state will have to pay out.
Next, he said that the state “won’t give what it is not obligated to give” and that it would only help the former sick employees “with pressure on.” Asked who the plaintiffs were, Kaner said they are mostly former employees from the 1970s and 1980s.
He explained that it “takes a long time until you get sick, sometimes 20 years,” adding that “the conditions for workers got much better in the 1990s and today the conditions are much better.”
But he said he still expects many more former employees whose symptoms have not yet presented themselves to come forward with work-related illnesses in the future.
The Justice Ministry statement said that the committee would have the authority to hold hearings and be advised by experts, and that the goal would be to present recommendations by the middle of 2014.
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