Foundry workers fight for safe working conditions

    The Free Metalworkers’ Union (SPM) appealed to the Minister of Industry and the Director of the State Inspectorate of the Ministry of Labour with a request to eliminate violations of safety and labour protection at large Minsk enterprises.

    The Council of the Free Metalworkers’ Union received appeals from Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) and (Minsk Tractor works) MTZ workers with complaints about unacceptable working conditions, lack of ventilation, and other violations of labour protection and safety regulations.

    The letter describes the situation on MAZ foundry conveyor No. 1. Workers report the complete absence of exhaust ventilation at the casting site: “When pouring flasks (molds), intra-flask modification is used, which results in a strong pyroelectric effect and, accordingly, an increased release of gases harmful to health. The pyroelectric effect and gas evolution are in accordance with the approved technology, but n this case the hood must work properly. The plumber comes to turn it on every morning before the start of the work shift, however, during work there is no sense from it, because it does not draw smoke in and we inhale all this. The hood grates are located in the metal pouring zone along the entire length, combined into a common pipe. Ideally, a newspaper sheet should stick to this grate, but this is true in case of its proper operation; but now even the smoke from a lighted match does not get through there”.

    Workers have repeatedly complained to their supervisors, but the supervisors do not react: “they only need the amount of founding and a plan for the month”.

    As for MAZ automatic molding line, the situation is a bit better. According to the workers, they turn on the hood themselves, however, it hardly works:

    “The technological process of pouring flasks at automatic molding lines is the same as at foundry conveyor-1, only the flasks themselves are smaller there. The included hood only makes noise, it does not solve the problem, and due to the lack of outflow of smoke and gases, many workers complained of headaches. According to measurements carried out by the factory laboratory, everything is fine with them. Although there is no certainty since they didn’t show us the documents”.

    SPM Chairman Aleksandr Bukhvostov notes that this situation is applicable not only for foundries; egregious cases of violations of labour protection and safety measures are detected everywhere at various enterprises in Belarus.

    – We communicate with the workers of many enterprises where our organizations are established, and we see that decreased responsibility of managers for creating normal working conditions. The situation at MAZ and MTZ, which we are talking about in the letter, is rather an example of a general trend in violation of safety regulations, labour protection at Belarusian enterprises and the disregard of employers to this issue. I really hope that these precedents will be considered by the competent authorities and the problem will be resolved. People breathe in industrial waste, harmful substances, they lose their health, so, it is necessary to take measures.

    Aleksandr Bukhvostov told about a problem with workplace certification. Employers practically do not inform the workers about the way the workplaces were certified, what conditions have been created there. 

    “All this is done informally in order to erase the claims of higher control bodies”, said the SPM chairman.

    What should an employee do?

    First of all, not to hush up the facts of violation of working conditions but to contact independent trade unions and study labour legislation.

    – Let’s take an example with the unserviceable ventilation system. The worker has the right to refuse to work if he/she thinks that being in the workplace under such working conditions is harmful to his/her health. This is the standard described in the Labour Code which must be complied with. And the trade unions must support this. Unfortunately, only staterun trade unions operate at enterprises; they never oppose the administration .

    So, we recommend that employees gain strength and courage. No one will protect the worker except himself. Only he can protect himself, and the best thing is solidarity, when workers support each other. The working team refuses to work – and the shop refuses to work as well, expressing solidarity.

    For example, in case of an egregious violation of labour protection. Let’s say, if ventilation system does not work and the crane operator works in conditions when he/she loses consciousness from the air he/she breathes. Workers should support each other, express solidarity, fight for their rights, for their right to stay healthy at work. 

    Look at our cemeteries: people die at the age of 45-50. And this is directly related to working conditions.

    – We urge employees of enterprises not to be afraid, to write to the SPM trade union, to publish these facts of violation of working conditions, –  says Aleksandr Bukhvostov.