Workers in India Strike Over Health and Safety

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Workers at the Hema Chemical Industries plant in Vadodara, Gujarat, India, have been on strike for more than seven months in protest against the company’s refusal to observe the health and safety regulations in the 1948 Factory Act or even court orders.

The Hema workers walked out on Dec. 11, 1998, both in response to the grave health dangers they face and to protest a cut in wages. Despite management’s flagrant disregard of the law, the government of the state of Gujarat issued an injunction against the strike on May 1, showing its contempt for the international workers’ holiday.

One of the main functions of the Hema plant is to manufacture chromium derivatives, such as bichromate.

The hazards of chromium are well known. For example, cement, oil, automobile, and diesel locomotive repairers often face skin problems from working with materials containing chromium.

Bichromate is hexavalent chromium, which is a human carcinogen. It mainly attacks the upper respiratory tract-including the nose, pharynx, and lungs.

It can also damage the kidneys, stomach, and liver.

It is known to cause lung cancer, deep ulcers on the skin called “chrome ulcers,” irritation and ulcers in the nose, as well as perforations of the ear drums and nasal septum.

The workers working at Hema chemicals have fallen prey to all these hazards. Forty-three workers have been found to be suffering from nasal septum perforation and 23 from contact and sensitizing dermatitis.

The organization of the besieged workers, the Vadodara Kamdar Union, has issued an appeal for international solidarity:

“We appeal to progressive individuals, groups, and unions to send their protests to the Chief Minister of Gujarat [Fax: +91-2712-22101], the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission [+91-11-3340016 or 3366537] and the Hema Chemical Industries [Fax: +91-265-380129].

“We request that copies of the protest letter be sent also.

“[Fax: +91-265-412499, E-mail: We urgently appeal to the unions, groups, and individuals to send financial help to the workers of Hema Chemicals. It is the question of 250 workers’ families.”

Checks can be made out to the Vadodara Kamdar Union and sent to the union at 101 Shree Krishna, Apartment No. 2, Opp. Kothi Police Parade Ground, Raopura, Vadodara-390001, Gujarat, India. Phone/Fax: +91-265- 412499/412224.

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