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Unions urge probe on asbestos-linked deaths

Swiss Federal Railways is among the companies whose pre-1990s work practices are being questioned in relation to asbestos deaths.

Labour unions are demanding a probe of companies’ pre-1990 working conditions in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino, in connection with recent asbestos-linked deaths.

They are targeting particularly Swiss Federal Railways and the Swiss accident insurance fund SUVA.

There is concern in Ticino over several recent deaths of former employees of Swiss Federal Railways workshops in the cantonal capital Bellinzona and hydro-electrical workshops of the Blenio firm, where they were exposed to asbestos prior to 1990.

The Swiss trade union federation UNIA, transport workers’ union SEV and “Giù les mani” association are calling for working conditions at that time to be probed and also the role of the SUVA.

They question how much SUVA knew about asbestos in the companies concerned and why it did not react in time.

Labour unions and asbestos survivors are calling for “total transparency”.

According to investigations by the Bellinzona-based newspaper “La Regione”, the employees concerned were not equipped with proper masks. It also alleges that those who refused to work in carriages and locomotives contaminated with asbestos were threatened with being fired.

The employees who died were all suffering from malignant tumours typically associated with asbestos.

Up until 1990, asbestos was imported and used in Switzerland. It was present in the trains and carriages of Swiss Federal Railways as well as various components of wheels and electric motors.

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