Workplace safety investigation continues at Tukums dairy plant

A month ago, the Latvian Television broadcast "Forbidden Method" reported on four occupational safety incidents in the factory of "Tukuma piens/Tukums Milk". The workers suffered severe injuries to their hands, including the loss of fingers. The State Labor Inspectorate is still looking at one of the cases, Latvian Radio reported on March 28.

Claudia, a Ukrainian, fractured her hand at the factory after she'd been put to work on a machine she had not been trained to work with. At the time, Claudia did not go to the labor inspectorate because a company representative, who also took her to hospital, allegedly told her not to tell the doctor that the injury happened at work and Claudia told the doctor that she had fallen on the street. 

As a result, she was given a sick note which was paid for only 9 days and then, having lost her income and the possibility to continue working, Claudia went back to Ukraine.

Claudia said: "Of course, everyone was shocked by the situation, but I was told straight away that I signed the Job Safety... Well, yes, I signed, I signed, but no one taught me anything about the machine or even told me what was in it and how. [...]. But when all this happened, I didn't understand at all where and how I should go for help. The lawyer came to see me too and then she told me my rights and I realized, of course, that I had done everything wrong after the injury because I had listened to Jana from the company."

Claudia later received legal assistance at the Tukums Support Center for Ukrainian Civilians, but she had already decided to go to Ukraine. 

The State Labour Inspectorate also started investigating Claudia's case. So far, Claudia has given one testimony but has not received any news from the Inspectorate about the progress of the case.

Ints Poškus, the head of the company "Tukuma piens", did not want to comment on the specific situation in a Latvijas Radio recording, and also did not provide answers to the questions sent by e-mail.

Andris Saulītis, a representative of the Zemgale regional division of the State Labor Inspectorate, said that the investigation was still ongoing and the testimonies of the parties involved were being assessed. If workers suffer significant injuries in the work environment, the employer must inform the Labor Inspectorate, but the Inspectorate is still unable to comment on whether the accident was covered up at the company.

Saulītis noted: "The investigation is still ongoing and I will refrain from commenting further as that final decision has not been taken. At the moment we are aware of a total of four cases at the company, but there have been no further accident reports. We have also been to the company ourselves afterward and spoken to the management and the workers. And the instructions are in a language that people can understand, and the company is taking steps to provide training and briefings."

In another case, where 19-year-old Matīss lost his fingers, the Inspectorate concluded that he himself had been careless.

The representative of the Labor Inspectorate added that he did not observe any new trend that Ukrainian workers have been more frequently involved in accidents recently. 

The One Stop Shop for Foreigners of the Society Integration Foundation receives around 100 calls a week and a third of its clients are Ukrainian civilians. Inese Saldābola, a spokesperson for the Foundation, confirmed that legal advice is also provided on employment law issues.

Saldábola: "What we observe is that there is access to information, but of course in many situations it is a question of language, whether the newcomer can accurately perceive and also understand this information, taking into account the country the newcomer has come from. For example, with employment law, people have very different understandings. Of course, employers can certainly work more on this. Suppose employers think more about diversity and inclusion in their companies. In that case, that of course also reduces disputes and disagreements, and also the kind of abuse of power that we often see, because it's a question of how the employer looks at their employee - whether they are an ally with their needs, or whether they are just a tool. If this is uncomfortable, I look for the next one."

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