17 Mar 2020 Ferado

Indian Saint-Gobain worker dismissed for occupational illness

A former Saint-Gobain Crystals and Detectors worker in Bangalore, India, Jayaraj Mathangi, was fired for abstenteeism after developing severe health problems due to hazards he was exposed to at work.

The company fired him in 2016 after years of service. In addition to his job, he lost his health insurance, which also covered his dependent parents and wife. Jayaraj, who is 35 years old, has kept fighting for his rights and demands reinstatement and compensation for lost health.

Jayaraj first joined the company in August 2008. He started as a trainee, and after three years was employed in February 2011 as a production technician in the quality control department.

Jayaraj’s job was to check some 300-400 cadmium crystals per day. Transparent under normal conditions, cadmium tungstate crystals emit light when exposed to gamma rays and x-rays, and are used to make scintillation detectors. To test and calibrate the detectors, workers used Caesium-137, a radioactive element. Cadmium and Caesium are extremely hazardous and must be handled with great care.

From 2012 onwards, Jayaraj noticed a serious deterioration in his health. He suffered headaches, pain and numbness in his legs. He informed the management of his health issues but no action was taken. He sought medical treatment, and tests revealed the cadmium level in his blood was three or four times the acceptable limit. He had a high red blood count, high lymphocytes, abnormal glucose levels, and low levels of vitamin D and calcium. The doctors also found that he suffered from bronchitis, muscle cramps and bone softening.

Although it is difficult to prove that all these conditions are work-related, many can be caused or exacerbated by cadmium toxicity and radiation. Jayaraj has been in treatment until the present, but he was fired in 2016 on the grounds of long absenteeism.

In 2012 workers set up a union at the company. The newly created organization tried to address the health and safety situation, including Jayaraj’s case. Management dismissed workers who were part of the union, while others were offered slight pay rises in exchange for a written renunciation of any future union activities. Workers at the company remain without representation.

The situation has not improved in the absence of a union or joint health and safety body representing workers’ interests. Eventually, the company managers were convicted by the Bangalore court and fined, following state inspections in 2009 and 2016. The inspection report referenced Jayaraj’s case and confirmed that excessive levels of cadmium were found in the blood of many workers in the cadmium processing department.

The national Atomic Energy Regulatory Board inspector noticed that workers were handling sealed lead containers of radioactive materials with their bare hands, and recommended the use of forceps. Jayaraj reports that during the inspection only safety conditions related to the radiation sources were checked. These had recently been improved, based on his earlier complaint. The inspector did not visit the quality control department to see the poor safety conditions there.

In their General Principles of Conduct and Action, Saint-Gobain commits “to take particular care to adopt all measures necessary to ensure the best possible protection against health and safety risks in the workplace”. Saint-Gobain Group companies “must scrupulously ensure that employees’ rights are respected. They must promote an active dialogue with their employees.” None of these principles were applied at Saint-Gobain Crystals and Detectors in Bangalore.

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches issued a letter to the group demanding a proper investigation into the problems identified and adequate measures to repair and improve the situation, including but not limited to:

reinstatement of Jayaraj Mathangi with payment of lost income including all due increments, arrears, bonuses and other benefits since July 2016,
payment of adequate medical compensation to Jayaraj Mathangi.
investigation of the situation to eliminate health hazards related to exposure to cadmium and radioactive materials.
allowing workers to freely organize, form and join the union of their choice.

17 Mar 2020 Ferado

Workers in Cambodia and Myanmar hit hard by Coronavirus fall-out

The global outbreak of the Coronavirus is slowing down the economy and eliminating thousands of jobs in the global supply chain in South East Asia. Cambodia and Myanmar are among the most affected countries in the region.

Garment factories rely on raw materials from China, and as manufacturing plunged in China, factory owners in Cambodia and Myanmar have begun suspending operations and retrench workers.

Ten factories in Cambodia informed the government that production would be suspended. It is estimated that 200 factories in the sector will either suspend operations or decrease productivity. One source reported that 5,000 Cambodian workers have already lost their jobs.

Factories who have suspended operations are obliged to pay workers 60 per cent of the minimum wage, and the Cambodian government has offered affected employers to pay 20 per cent of that.

During the suspension, workers are to receive training conducted by Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training at the workplace.

The economic situation in Myanmar is also acute. The Confederation of Trade Unions of Myanmar has sounded the alarm bell over the lack of raw materials from China that has caused closure of 16 factories and layoffs of 7,000 workers.

Union representatives are meeting with employers and the government tomorrow to discuss the issue. IndustriALL affiliate Industrial Workers Federation of Myanmar (IWFM) will also approach brands sourcing from Myanmar to discuss the impact on workers.

“There are policy measures that can be taken,”

says IWFM president Khaing Zar.

“The government can create a special fund to support affected workers, consider tax reductions on electricity and provide soft loans to employers.”

Annie Adviento, IndustriALL South East Asia regional secretary, welcomes the Cambodian government’s announcement, but urges the government to be prudent in approving the application of lowering the minimum wage.

“It’s an emergency measure that could easily be exploited by employers by not paying minimum wage to workers. There must be a due diligence process to prevent frauds.

“As many jobs as possible must be saved and the government should intervene when workers lose salaries. Both Cambodia and Myanmar have participated in ILO’s decent work country programme, which focuses on employment creation and social protection for workers.”

17 Mar 2020 Ferado

We must fight the scourge of child domestic labour

Moyna cannot sit at the table and eat with the rest of the household. She is the other — in the house, but not a member of the house. Her humanity is reduced to the work she does. Those people around her do not know who she is as a person. She functions in the background; keeps the household running. She is a six-year-old domestic worker in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

“I wake up at six in the morning and go to bed at midnight,” she says. “My daily chores include sweeping and wiping the floors and stairs, doing the dishes and laundry, opening the main gate downstairs, switching on machines, a little bit of shopping, cleaning the toilet.”

In the morning, her workload is particularly heavy, Moyna tells a researcher with the Bangladesh-based Alternative Movement for Resources and Freedom Society: “I help to prepare breakfast, and I eat two breads for myself in a hurry. The same situation arises during lunch and dinner time; I always eat last.”

Moyna has no father, and her mother remarried a man who beat her for no reason, which is why her grandmother sent her to Dhaka to work. She has never been to school. Her employer does not allow her to watch TV or talk to outsiders, and makes her wear worn-out clothes. She is slapped or verbally abused for small mishaps, and brutally beaten and locked up for up to 24 hours without food for what her employer considers more severe offences.

Moyna is one of hundreds of thousands of child domestic workers in the South Asian nation, and her story is far from unique. It could be from any other corner of the globe. Child labour in domestic work is a pandemic. The International Labour Organisation estimates that more than 17-million children around the world are involved in domestic work in a home other than their own. The vast majority of them are girls, and most are younger than 14 years. Employers often prefer young girls because they can be easily controlled.

Unlike the current Covid-19 pandemic, this pandemic is entirely human-made — and it is entirely up to us to eradicate it. One important reason why eradicating child domestic work is hard is that it is socially accepted in many countries. Sometimes it is even regarded as positive, and as preferable to other work. That is especially true in the case of girls, for whom domestic work is thought of as offering a protective family environment and a sort of apprenticeship for marriage.

17 Mar 2020 Ferado

Afghanistan: Television journalists wounded in deadly Kabul attack

A reporter and a cameraperson for Kabul News TV were wounded when members of the Islamic State attacked a commemorative event in Kabul on March 6. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Afghan Independent Journalists’ Association (AIJA) condemn the brutal attack.

Reporter Mansour Nikmal, 30, and cameraperson Najim Sultani, 25, both of Kabul News TV, were wounded when IS gunmen opened fire on a ceremony marking the 25th commemoration of death of Abdul Ali Mazari, an Afghan Shiaa leader killed in 1995 after being taken prisoner by the Taliban.

At least 32 people were killed and another 58 civilians wounded in the grizzly attack. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s Amaq news agency reported on its telegram channel. Broadcaster Tolo News showed live footage of people running for cover as gunfire was heard.

According to AIJA, many journalists reporting the commemoration ceremony managed to flee safely. Afghan political leader Abdullah Abdullah was present along with other key political figures and escaped unharmed.

“We received injury when the ceiling at the program venue fell down due to the rocket- landing by assailants”, Mansour Nikmal said. Both journalists were taken to Alemi Curative hospital Kabul for their treatment.

Afghan defense forces fought the gunmen throughout the day, finally securing the area and killing about three of the gunmen, according to ministry of interior spokesman Nasrat Rahimi.

It was the first major attack in the city since the US reached an agreement with the Afghan Taliban on a phased withdrawal of troops on February 29. But between February 28 and March 5, 88 pro-government forces and 13 civilians were killed in the country. Under the terms of the agreement, the US and its Nato allies will withdraw their troops within 14 months. In return, the Taliban will hold talks with the Afghan government.