A FORMER Saint-Gobain Crystals and Detectors worker in Bangalore, India, Jayaraj Mathangi, was fired for absenteeism after developing severe health problems due to hazards he was exposed to at work, said global union federation IndustriALL, which condemned his treatment.
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 organisation 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 organise, form and join the union of their choice.
Meanwhile, the CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) has called on airlines and railway authorities to forego travel cancellation charges.
A statement issued by Tapan Sen, CITU General Secretary, said on Wednesday: ‘Coronavirus has become pandemic.
‘The entire humanity is desperately battling against its catastrophic impact globally. India also has its own share of vulnerability and impact – so far two persons reportedly died and scores were reported positive in tests – quarantining them is also going on a war footing.
‘Thus, it has heavily disturbed the normal course of daily life of the people. Many state governments have declared that the educational and other institutions would remain closed till the end of March and an extension of this period is also uncertain.
‘Similarly some companies and manufacturing establishments have also rescheduled their production plan. On the apprehension of its rapid spreading and as precaution, many state governments have proclaimed a virtual ban on the locomotion of people from one place to other. Accordingly peoples are cancelling their travel plans.
‘CITU expresses its concern and solidarity with those who are experiencing the hardship with this pandemic virus and calls upon our affiliates to join the all preventive and awareness efforts wherever that are undertaken and required.
‘In addition we are urging all the passenger aircraft companies and railway authorities to forego the cancellation charges, in the event of cancelling their travelling plan in the wake of coronavirus imminent danger. CITU urges the central government to take appropriate measures in this regard immediately.’
Earlier in the week, a statement issued by CITU President K Hemalata condemned as ‘barbarity’ a steep hike in fuel taxes
She said: ‘The Centre of Indian Trade Unions strongly condemns the Modi government’s criminal act of a steep hike of excise duty on petrol and diesel by three rupees per litre.
‘According to a notification issued by the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs, special excise duty was hiked by two rupees to eight rupees per litre in case of petrol and to four rupees a litre in the case of diesel. Additionally, road tax was raised by one rupee per litre each on petrol and diesel to ten rupees.
‘With this, the total incidence of excise duty on petrol has risen to 22.98 rupees per litre and that on diesel to 18.83 rupees. It may be recalled that the tax on petrol was 9.48 rupees per litre and that on diesel was 3.56 rupees a litre when the Modi government took office in 2014. CITU urge the people to understand this barbarity of the present regime towards people.
‘As the international oil prices are falling to such an unprecedented low, the prices of petrol and diesel should have been reduced at their respective retail outlets.
‘But this government known for its insensitivity to people’s suffering who are already experiencing unbearable hardship in the wake of severe economic crisis and coronavirus, has not passed the gains of global falling prices of petrol and diesel to the people. Instead they mopped up 39,000 billion rupees by this hike to off-set its fiscal deficit which has taken a heavy beating due to its pro-corporate largesse.
‘CITU demands that central government should rollback the rise of excise duties and urges them to pass on all gains to the people by reducing the prices of all petroleum products accrued due to the falling international oil prices.
‘CITU calls upon all its affiliates to strongly protest against this heinous crime of the Modi regime.’