Friday, November 24, 2006

Ladies Fingers in the Bindi Bhaji?

THESE sort are good for you. Okra, Bindi, or Ladies' Fingers. But they might not be all you get....

WATCH out for unexpected extras in your dips and atarters. Especially if you're a veggie! People in Britain spent £1.6 billion on ready meals last year and account for nearly half of all the ready meals eaten in Europe. There is a good chance that your tasty snacks came from a place like the one where Dimple Muit works.

Dimple, 27, lost the top of the middle finger of her right hand while using a machine that she had already reported as faulty. It was reported three times, but was still in use without a mechanic having been to fix it. When Dimple Muitt reported to a company nurse, they gave her some tissues to staunch the bleeding, but her manager refused to call an ambulance.

Eventually a manager took her in his car and dumped her outside the A&E at Central Middlesex hospital (Park Royal), leaving her bleeding heavily from one hand and holding a plastic bag with her severed finger in the other. By the time she arrived at Mount Vernon hospital (Northwood) for her injury to be treated the doctor had to tell her it was too late, two hours too late, for her finger to be reattached. Dimple would have to be off work for eight to ten weeks, and in constant pain.

Dimple's employer, Katsouris Foods, supplies top retailers such as Tesco, M&S Sainsbury and Waitrose. Every day the 2,500 Katsouris workers at sites in Park Royal and Wembley produce about 110,000 ready meals, 150,000 dip pots and 30,000 snack foods. But their pay and conditions are far from top, and nor is their workplace safety. Shortly after Dimple's accident a work colleague had the top of two fingers severed in another workplace accident. The GMB union says that every day there are three to four accidents at the company's three sites.

Besides fighting for decent pay and conditions, and compensation for those injured, the union is calling for more frequent and thorough inspections by the Health and Safety Executive(HSE), and enforcement of improvement orders. Workers say they know when an inspection is coming because they are ordered to clean and tidy up the factory. They also claim that improvement orders made little difference.

Temperatures, hot and cold, are important to food industry safety, for workers as for consumers. GMB branch secretary and safety expert Hiten Vaydia says thermometers and temperature probes are in short supply at Katsouris.

'Freezing cold temperatures are a major hazard in all three Katsouris sites,' Hiten says. 'In the blast freezer area temperatures can be as low as minus 18 degrees centigrade.' Although the Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations require employers to limit the time for which workers are exposed, this does not always happen. Workers who have not had time to don protective clothing kept some distance away can then find themselves having to climb over boxes and crates to get to freezer doors.

At the other extreme, a twenty-year-old kitchen worker had his foot scalded when the nozzle on a pan containing 250 litres of boiling water was suddenly opened. The scars remained months after his accident. 'There was no guard on the cooker when our member was burnt,' Hiten said. 'The company didn't even take him to hospital. The company nurse told him to wait in the canteen where he remained in agony from midday until 5.30pm when I collected him and drove him to casualty.'

"Getting compensation for people injured by Katsouris is not the point", says Hiten Vaidya. No one should go to work fit and healthy and leave it injured".
Hiten spoke to Brent Trades Union Council about Katsouris on Wednesday evening, explaining some of the difficulties trades unionists face in organising at the north-west London firm, where many workers are fairly new immigrants, having to overcome language difficulties and fears about their jobs and immigration status. Nevertheless the union members are determined to obtain recognition and improvements. They deserve whatever support we can give them.

You can hear about this issue on BBC Radio Five Live's
Worricker on Sunday programme at 10 o'clock on Sunday morning. Listen for a special Five Live Report - Blood on the Bhajis
909 and 693 am or online:

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