Wifol protests dismissal of laundry workers over harmful chemical

POSTED: 06/27/13 3:22 PM

St. Maarten –  The Windward Islands Federation for Labor (Wifol) plans to challenge a dismissal request for 4 Laundromat employees that have been submitted to the Labor Department.  In speaking of the employees’ plight, union President Theophilus Thompson, on Tuesday, said that the workers are being victimized because they protested the use of a chemical in their duties since it is affecting their health. He said that the use of strong chemical cleaning agents for laundry at various establishments is, in itself, not new. However employees ought to be properly trained in the use of certain chemicals and also be provided with protective gear.

“There is a request at the Labor Department to terminate those employees who protested that. Our labor inspectors need to become more vigilant not just waiting on a complaint to visit a workplace as far as safety and occupational health are concerned, but should be more active. The same way how inspectors visit supermarkets to check on expired goods unannounced, they should visit other businesses,” Thompson said without divulging the name of the business at the heart of the controversy.

“The chemical is one that is used in laundries but the employees must be trained how to use those chemicals.  It has to be in a place that is properly ventilated, since the chemicals can be inhaled or come in contact with the skin, he stated.

The chemical is a stain remover, which is relatively new to the business. When employees began using it, they observed that it was adversely affecting their health, Thompson said. He related that one employee complained of itching during the night hours and after visiting her house doctor she was told to discontinue any contact with the cleaning agent.  Other employees’ reactions included activation of sinuses and allergies and burning of the eyes. Collectively, the employees decided to lodge a complaint at the Laundromat’s management, which did not yield any positive results. They then visited their house doctors and finally took their plight to the Wifol. At the time of their protest, Thompson said that protective wear such as masks and gloves, as well as proper ventilation and consciousness on the same use of chemicals, were all absent at the business place.

“We will be making a report; the reason why these employees are being victimized is because in our opinion they protested against use of chemical. If the company puts other reasons, then that will be challenged and they will have to bring proof.”

The union says that it decided to inspect the worksite and observed that the new cleaning agent was removed from the front of the business and placed at the back of the location.


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