Nacods miners' union at risk if it loses court actions
The future of a south Wales miners' union is in jeopardy if it loses two ongoing court actions, says its general secretary.
Bleddyn Hancock says Nacods could face costs of up to £1m if it loses a bid to pursue compensation by former miners for knee problems caused underground.
The union is waiting to hear if its appeal against a court ruling that the claims are out of time will be granted.
The other case is a cancer compensation claim in the Cynon Valley.
Nacods (the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers) South Wales became entirely separate from the Nacods union in England in the late 1990s.
End Quote Bleddyn Hancock Nacods in south Wales
When we've received funds and members made contributions we've put that towards financing the next case”
The union has been involved in many high-profile cases including miners' chest disease claims, vibration injuries and pension claims.
But the cost of lengthy and complicated legal battles over many years has taken its toll on its finances.
Mr Hancock said: "[If we lose] we may be able to continue on a very much reduced basis with some lay officers not being paid at all to look after the working members, but certainly it's the end of the union as we know it.
"More importantly of course, it's not just our survival but the union is crucial in getting justice for these thousands of ex-workers who suffer terrible injuries and ill health."'Contingency fund'
One case involves former miners seeking compensation for osteoarthritis in the knees which they claim has resulted from their work in the collieries.
If the union is successful it will pursue litigation on behalf of the men for compensation but if it loses it could face substantial legal costs.
Mr Hancock admitted that, in the worst case scenario, his members could be liable for the costs but he said the union had a contingency fund for this.
The union is also awaiting the outcome of a cancer compensation claim relating to the Phurnacite plant in Abercwmboi in the Cynon Valley, expected in October.
Terry Hathaway, 73, of Caerphilly, is a lead claimant in the ongoing miners' knee cases.
He said: "Without the union, these cases would never have come about.
"They've taken the gamble and let's hope this gamble pays off.
"Without their help, the chest cases, the knees and everything, ordinary... rank and file members wouldn't be able to go and pursue them.
"That's one way unions supporting us have always been there for us.
"Without them, I don't think half of [the cases] would've got anything."
It is representing the widows of two former workers in the group action.
The union has cut costs in recent years, closing its Cardiff Bay offices and moving to cheaper premises in Abercynon, and dispensing with the services of a Cardiff public relations agency.
"We've been accused of making millions but we never have," said Mr Hancock.
"When we've received funds and members made contributions we've put that towards financing the next case.
"Our fate is dependent on the outcome of these two cases we're waiting to hear about… if we lose the knee cases then I will be retired."
The union's membership stands at 499, but only 40 are working members, with the remainder made up of retired members and widows of deceased members.
Retired members pay £35 a year in subscriptions, while working members pay a few pounds every week.
Mr Hancock, general secretary for 25 years, conceded there was an element of risk pursuing big cases.
But he said he had no regrets and was proud of the union's work, which had included many successful legal battles.
"I think our record speaks for itself," he said.
"We've won these immense cases [previously] and hundreds of thousands of families have benefited.
"I don't think that's a mistake, it's something we're proud of."