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Bosses threw away severed finger, says factory worker

This article is over 1 years, 7 months old
Nick Clark speaks to a food factory worker in West London who say that he is a victim of his bosses’ approach to workers’ safety and of the wider culture that always puts profits first
Issue 2802
GMB member Viraj's severed finger

Viraj says his severed finger will affect him for the rest of his life.

A food factory worker is ­speaking out and getting his workplace organised after bosses threw his severed ­fingertip in the bin. Viraj Kakadia lost the end of his finger at a Taiko sushi factory in west London on a machine he says was faulty, and without the proper protective gloves. But when he went to tell his bosses he says that instead of ­calling an ambulance, they made him fill out a form—and book a taxi himself.

“I was working on a slicing machine—but it didn’t have a safety sensor and there had been a ­breakdown every day,” Viraj told Socialist Worker. “There were no metal gloves available, only cotton ones,” he added. “There are two slicing machines, but only one pair of metal gloves.

“My finger got caught inside and it was cut. For 15 or 20 minutes I filled out a form while I kept ­bleeding—too much blood. But the company didn’t call an ambulance. They told me to book a taxi or an Uber and go to the hospital. My friend had to help me book the taxi. The company didn’t even provide that.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, when doctors asked Viraj if he still had his finger so they could reattach it, he found bosses had thrown it away. And his ordeal didn’t end there. Doctors told Viraj he needed four or five weeks bed rest. But Taiko bosses said if he wanted to stay off on full pay, he’d need to book a holiday. “I asked how much sick pay is a week and they told me it’s only £100,” said Viraj. “But my family lives here, my wife is a student. £100 is not enough. I cut my finger at work, not at home.”

After just two weeks off, Viraj returned to work. Bosses offered him lighter duties, but only if he took night shifts at first. And GMB union organiser Hiten Vaidya says they tried to encourage him back to his normal job while what remained of his finger was still swollen and hurt.

After Viraj’s story first appeared in the press, Taiko said it would restore his holiday pay, and insisted the machines were safe, with proper protection. “They removed the machine straight away after the accident,” said Hiten. “That proves it was a defective machine. They also straight away started to provide proper metal gloves.”

Bosses also invited Viraj to a meeting to ask if he was happy with his pay.  But for Viraj, the problem is the way bosses seemingly played fast and loose with workers’ safety. “Management called me to the office and asked me if I wanted to say anything,” said Viraj. “I said yes, why didn’t you call an ambulance?

“Before my accident there were two or three accidents and they didn’t call an ambulance, only a taxi. If they had called an ambulance I would have got treatment immediately.This is going to be a problem for the rest of my life. My life was like a game to them.”

Working in harsh conditions without the protection they need

Viraj’s story lifts the lid on life in a factory where work is long, hard and often dangerous. He and a workmate describe spending hours at a time, standing in near freezing conditions—and, they say, without proper warm, protective clothing. It’s an insight into the work that puts food on supermarket shelves.

“We work six days a week, eight hours a day, starting at 7am,” said Viraj. “Inside, the temperature is two or three degrees. You work eight hours, ten hours, 12 hours, only standing up.”

“It’s very cold,” his friend added. “They only give you a normal white coat. The product is like ice. Your hands are freezing and swelling. Even if you ask to go and warm your hands, they can refuse that. They even penalise people for going to the toilet because you need to remove your white coat every time.”

GMB union organiser Hiten Vaidya says other workers at Taiko report the same. “They work in cold conditions, but they have not been provided with proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Not even a fleece,” he said. “When you walk into a chiller you should have a fleece, proper shoes, a body warmer. But the company hasn’t been providing these. Even for people who handle the frozen meats. People show me the state of their fingers because they’re not provided with the right cotton cloves to handle frozen foods.”

Viraj and his friend also say that, in a factory where most of the workforce speak English as a second language, they miss out on vital safety training. “They came to me with a piece of paper and said sign here to say that you’ve had training and you can work the machine,” said Viraj’s friend. “The main problem was it’s in English—and my first language is not English.”

Hiten explained, “When I asked Viraj who provided him with training, he said an English woman. I asked, did they provide you training in your own language? He said no—they just asked me to sign this paper, and he signed.” In these conditions, it’s no wonder accidents happen, says Hiten. “When people work without proper PPE, when they work for six days, when they only get one break, in cold temperatures, people are going sick,” he said. “All this combines one day to something like Viraj’s accident. I’m still convinced Viraj’s accident was avoidable.”

A Taiko spokesperson said, “We provide each employee with thorough training and a full supply of PPE, and we ensure that all machinery is well-maintained and has the correct safety features in place.”

Hiten says conditions are better where the GMB organises. That’s why he and Viraj are encouraging others to join. Viraj said, “After my story, lots of people have told me they’re joining GMB. It’s great.” “It’s about standing up for his rights,” added Hiten.

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