11/27/2012 12:21 EST | Updated 01/27/2013 05:12 EST

Nova Scotia legislation would protect benefits for coal miners with lung disease

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia miners diagnosed with lung disease would be permitted to keep their full Workers' Compensation benefits regardless of their health condition, under legislation tabled Tuesday.

Labour Minister Marilyn More introduced amendments to the Workers' Compensation Act that would maintain full benefits for coal miners who have at least 20 years of experience.

More says the change is needed following a decision by the Workers' Compensation Appeals Tribunal earlier this year that calls for the reduction of benefits for workers who had shown improvements in their lung condition.

"This group of coal miners have always been treated differently as they spent most of — if not their entire — careers in an unhealthy, challenging and difficult environment," said More. "The last thing we want to do is to disadvantage this aging group any further."

More said the change would restore the original intent of the Act.

Shelley Rowan of the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia said the change would affect about 40 to 50 people currently in the appeals process.

"Individual benefits are based on your income at the time and it's a percentage basically of your income," said Rowan.

She said the board pays about $4 million a year in benefits to about 700 former coal miners. Rowan said another group of about 900 workers from a range of industries aren't covered by the amendment and could face benefit reductions if they show improvements in lung function.

Bobby Gillis, a former coal miner who represents the group Cape Breton Injured Workers, said he was satisfied the change would provide at least some help to aging miners who have little income.

The change will ensure the miners maintain "hundreds of dollars," per month, he said.

"It's peanuts, these guys are just living," Gillis said.