Workers at the Katsouris food processing plants in north west London gathered for a mass meeting at the Brent Indian Association last Saturday.
The workers, mainly Asian women, are members of the GMB union. Although the firm offered extra overtime to deter workers from going to the meeting, about 60 attended.
The GMB has nominated Katsouris as the employer with the worst health and safety record in the country.
The union is trying to organise the 2,500 employees in the three Park Royal factories and two recent serious accidents have encouraged activists to step up their efforts.
Worker Dimple Muit lost the top of her middle finger while using a machine that she had already reported as faulty.
The manager refused to call an ambulance, offering only a tissue to staunch the flow of blood, then drove her to A&E and dumped her outside with her finger in a plastic bag.
Shortly after Dimple’s accident her work colleague Nitin Chokshi suffered injury when a large rubbish bin fell on his hand, severing the tops of two of his fingers.
“Since July we have had two major accidents,” says Hiten Vaidya, the GMB’s health and safety expert. “We believe they happened because of poor record keeping, no training, and no machine maintenance.”
Much of the meeting was conducted in Gujarati and the discussion from the floor focused on management bullying and the difficulty of making a stand in isolation.
One woman worker explained that she has to do two jobs.
She said, “I am a line leader and I have worked there for 18 years. I earn £5.95 an hour, what can I do?”
While she was assured by one official that she had a legal right to refuse to do work that was unsafe, other speakers emphasised that she would need the collective strength offered by the union to enforce that legal right.
“We have sent two letters to the company asking for talks and they have not even bothered to reply. Now is the time to increase the pressure,” said Hiten.
Katsouris is part of the multinational firm Geest, which made £25 million profit last year.
The Park Royal factories supply ready meals to a number of supermarket chains including Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Waitrose.
Protests are planned outside stores, starting with two branches of Marks & Spencer at Harrow and Brent Cross on the first weekend in October.