The Labor Prosecutor’s Office in Sao Paulo (MPT-SP) signed an agreement with Philips in Brazil this week. This agreement ensures compensation of R$ 20 million to former employees of the company that have been contaminated by mercury during the manufacture of fluorescent bulbs in an industrial plant located in the district of Capuava, in the city of Mauá.
R$ 20 million paid for intoxicated workers at Philips plant in Mauá
In 2012, after prolonged investigation, MPT-SP went to court arguing that 145 workers of Phillips in Mauá should be compensated. The prosecutors said Philips didn’t take the necessary protective measures to prevent mercury poisoning. The agreement this week ends the lawsuit and brings hope to treatment for contaminated former employees. The amount of R$ 20 million will be distributed equally among those who prove to have worked in the plant and have a medical report attesting mercury poisoning, a disease caused by mercury contamination. The factory was closed in 2010 after the dismissal of all employees.
The agreement also requires Philips to fund health insurance for life to affected workers and to donate about R$ 4 million in equipment to the hospital of the University of São Paulo, which has a multidisciplinary team focused on the diagnosis and study of mercury poisoning. The mercury poisoning primarily affects the central nervous system, and can have symptoms such as headaches, labyrinthitis, muscle pain, chills, bleeding from the gums to the teeth softening, depression, and insomnia. When ceases mercury exposure, the disease does not improve or disappear except with specialized treatment.
Who is entitled to compensation?
The beneficiaries of lawsuit are workers of the industrial plant of Philips in the district of Capuava, in the city of Mauá, who have been diagnosed with mercury poisoning. Also can be enable people for compensation the workers who have filed several lawsuits against Philips and asked for compensation, even if they have an unfavorable decision by the court. All workers that already have received R$ 100,000 or more as compensation cannot be beneficiaries of the new agreement. The documents required are: copy of the Labor and Social Security card (or any legal document proving employment relationship with Philips) and medical report stating the diagnosis. Interested parties have 12 months from 16 April 2015 to submit the documents in the labor court of Mauá.
The lawsuit was presented by MPT-SP in 2006 following a denounce of the Brazilian Association of the Exposed and Intoxicated by Mercury Metallic (AEIMM). Investigations revealed that in 1992 Philips had recognized the contamination of some workers, and agreed with the Ministry of Labor and Employment and the Metalworkers Union of Santo André, Mauá, Ribeirão Pires and Rio Grande da Serra that would offer free medical care, medicine, and removal without prejudice to the remuneration to contaminated employees. However, according to AEIMM, Philips broke the commitment and contaminated employees currently have to pay by themselves medical expenses and medications. Moreover, after 1995 the company ceased to provide the Occupational Accident Release (CAT) contamination of metallic mercury, despite the contamination persisted. And the policy for collective and individual protective equipment and suitability of the work environment to avoid risks to workers remain insufficient or non-existent.
MPT-SP asked for the company explains and promote several changes, along with the Ministry of Labor and Employment, found that although the company denied the collective agreement and say that since the mid 90 the risks of contamination were eliminated, other workers were contaminated after this period. Another important point in the investigation is that in 2010, after closing down the Capuava plant, Philips fired all employees and didn’t emit anymore the CAT on mercury contamination for at least three workers, besides the order by the Ministry. However, according to documents attached to the process, Philips made agreements with these same workers to receive compensation for accidents at work in values ranging from R$ 50,000 to R$ 140,000. Others documents analyzed by the MPT reveals that the company signed court agreement with some workers paying R$ 13,814,244 as compensation for accidents at work.
Based on reports of Hospital das Clínicas of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Sao Paulo and the National Social Security Institute (INSS), with information about former workers of the company diagnosed with mercury poisoning and employees with clinical symptoms suggestive of mercury poisoning, MPT presented to the company a Conduct Adjustment Agreement to, among other things, pay damages to workers and hire lifelong health plan for all workers who were diagnosed with mercury poisoning. However, the company did not accept the suggested terms, and MPT finally decided to present the lawsuit.