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08.11.2005 General News

Workers decry unsafe working conditions

By Chronicle
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- Protest against chinese company WORKERS OF Verise Industry Company Limited have expressed worry about the lack of enough protective gears for their work, which situation has resulted in most of them developing problems with their eyesight.

According to them, the heat, in addition to the chemicals that emanate from the machines in the production floor, where the males in particular work, is causing great harm to their health.

They explained that within the first minute when the machine was opened, the effect of the heat and vapour was immediately felt as it temporarily blinded the operators.

This, they complained, is making their work difficult and expressed fear of the potential harmful effect it may have on them in future, since their meager salary cannot even take care of their medical bills.

The workers, who stormed The Chronicle's premises, averred that their plea to management to provide them with goggles and nose pads, in addition to the gloves that were in poor state, had fallen on deaf ears. They alleged that to replace a worn out glove, a worker was asked to pay an amount of ¢20,000, which they found unreasonable.

The Chinese company, is a producer of unisex rubber sandals, that is sold between ¢15,000 - ¢20,000 on the Ghanaian market and according to the workers, most of the time, they had to use their hands to remove the scraps of the products left in the machine. According to them, portions of their arms and fingers get burnt in the process.

This problem, they noted, could have been minimized if there were overall gowns for their work. Additionally, the dusty floor, apart from making their feet dirty, also enters their nostrils exposing them to further health hazards, they told the paper.

The workers find it worrying that there was no First Aid Box in the entire company, leaving the about 110 factory workers, including ten Chinese, without proper first aid medication in case of injury. One worker, illustrating the gravity of the situation said, “when you have a cut, all you are given is a small toilet roll to clean the blood, apply rob to it and you are asked to continue with your work,” adding, “in case of stomach upset, headache or any other health problem, you would have to work without medication till your duty period was over!”

Each of the workers expressed their displeasure at the conditions under which they worked, describing it as appalling.

They contended that they were paid meager amounts for the very tedious work they did, compared to their Chinese counterparts, whose job they claimed to be less tedious.

They continued that though they did the same job, they the Ghanaian workers, who virtually have no rest from their tiresome work, could be asked to replace a Chinese worker, to enable the latter have some time of rest. According to them, their work demanded lots of energy; hence, the need to take in something more than snacks that was all the twenty minutes break offered them could allow. This, they asserted drained them of strength, compounding the already bad situation.

A worker lamented, “the nature of our work makes you thirst for water more often, but hardly would you be allowed to drink water or visit the lavatory,” while another worker added, “The working condition is not one of the best, considering the fact that we the males have to stand throughout the eight hours of work in addition to all the other problems.”

The particular complaint of the ladies was that the wooden seats they used were very hard, without any cushions or upholstery leading to a lot of discomfort for their use. In addition to this discomfort, they also get burns from the glues they used for bonding the company's label onto the products.

Asked whether they have made these complaints known to management through a representative, they answered in the negative and added that anyone who attempted to protest to the conditions was immediately laid off. This they noted had necessitated in them turning to the media to draw the attention of management and the appropriate authorities to come to their aid.

Demonstrating the fear of intimidation that might accompany this report, some of the workers protested against being photographed for the story, saying, “They will sack us if they are able to identify us from the picture,” while others said, “you know that there is so much hardship and it is not easy to find another job.”

Last, but not the least of their problems is the workers' desire to be given permanent employment status and improved conditions of service, such as working insurance. They also want better identity cards. Presently, all of them are casual workers while their I.D cards bear only their names without other vital information such as the company's name.

Responding to the workers' concerns, the assistant manager of the company, who doubles as the company's translator, Mr. Simba Chen, admitted to The Chronicle that the only protective kit available to the workers were the hand gloves.

According to him, Chinese workers have been doing the same work under the same conditions over the years without any health problems.

He emphasized that the equipment being used in Ghana is the most advanced globally, which gives minimal effect, if any at all. In his words, “Chinese workers have been doing this work in China for more than ten years now and there has been no harm to anybody.”

He said none of the workers had so far presented any medical report to that effect, noting that in the mean time, they were doing their best to manage the situation.

He denied that the workers were required to pay for replacement of gloves, indicating that they are allowed to take the gloves home after working hours for safety and better management but some of them misplaced them with the intention of getting new ones.

This, he said accounts for the payment issue that was brought up to encourage them take proper care of the items. Stating that, “actually, nobody has paid for it, it's just a warning and if someone says he has paid for it then that is ridiculous.”

Mr. Simba conceded also, that the company has no first aid box, saying, “There is no physical first aid box but we do our best to take care of minor problems with our Chinese medicine, especially our rob that is very effective.”

According to him, they have imported one from China that would soon arrive, pointing out that the China made is more professional, and that most of the drugs currently in use in the absence of the first aid box, was given to the Ghanaian employees. To deal with the dust, he said they could all work together to use water in cleaning the dust, instead of the workers complaining all the time.

The assistant manager explained that their Chinese factory workers were part of management, saying some of them work as engineers and senior technicians, while others train the Ghanaian workers, and hence they were remunerated a bit higher than their Ghanaian counterparts.

He mentioned that the twenty minutes break might not be enough for eating, but too much of leisure time for eight hours of work may affect productivity, stressing that their working condition was not as bad as the impression being created by the workers.

Further, he stated that though management had made available plaster strips for the ladies to protect their fingers, they claimed it did not make their job very fast compared to working without them, and promised to cushion their seat for more comfort.

Counteracting the allegation that those who complained were laid off, he stressed that “I am aware of their complaints and I have been explaining to them the basis for our decisions,” adding that, “if there has been any such incident, then it would have been in the past when there was no interpreter, which might have happened as a result of misunderstanding but not on purpose.”

He continued that they were presently considering making some of the dedicated workers, particularly the group leaders permanent staff, and appropriately renew their identity cards.

He added that a month ago, they started giving the workers incentives such as Chinese rice, cash and other products to encourage them work more efficiently.

In conclusion, he told The Chronicle that they were doing their best under the circumstances to make their employees comfortable, maintaining that there was a very cordial relationship between management and the workers, saying, “we have told them several times to approach us with their concerns so they could be appropriately addressed.”