Firms endanger workers with unsafe food

December, 13/2016 - 08:00

Most enterprises at industrial parks in HCM City are lax about providing their workers with completely safe and nutritious meals.

Viet Nam News

HCM CITY  Most enterprises at industrial parks in HCM City are lax about providing their workers with completely safe and nutritious meals.

In October, some 100 factory workers at a clothing manufacturing company in Củ Chi District in HCM City were hospitalised after falling ill with food poisoning symptoms.

Another food poisoning incident had taken at the same company in May, during which 96 workers were hospitalised.

Eighty per cent of the food poisoning cases at industrial parks and public schools were caused by catered meals, according to Đàm Trung Hiếu, deputy head of the labour management department under the Industrial Parks Management Board in HCM City.

There are roughly 285,000 workers at 21 industrial parks in the city, he said.

Some 100 enterprises have set up collective kitchens and hired cooks. More than 400 enterprises buy food cooked elsewhere, and some 450 enterprises give workers money to buy their own meals.

Over the last month, the city’s food safety branch imposed fines on several enterprises that violated food safety regulations, ranging from VNĐ6-66 million (US$265-2,900).

The food safety department said most the food poisonings are caused by micro-organisms, toxins and chemicals in mixed foods and seafood.

The department’s testing of the caterers that provided the unsafe food showed that most did not have food safety certificates. Their cooking areas did not meet hygiene requirements and were using ingredients of unclear origin.

Surveys by the National Institute of Nutrition under the health ministry showed that there is little nutritional value in workers’ meals, with only 12 per cent of calories from protein and 16 per cent from fat, with the rest from carbohydrates such as rice, corn and potato. The real value of each portion is only VNĐ10,000 ($0.4).

There are roughly 260 industrial and manufacturing zones in 61 provinces and cities throughout the country, creating jobs for more than one million direct workers and 1,5 million indirect workers.

Eight mass food poisonings occurred at industrial parks nationwide during the first half of this year, affecting some 550 workers, according to the Department of Food Safety under the Ministry of Health. Nearly 8,000 workers had food poisoning during the 2011-15 period.

Nearly 200 workers of Shin Dong Textile Company in HCM City’s District 12 were hospitalised after having dinner at their workplace in 2015. —  Photo

Management loopholes

The low quality of the meals is attributed to cost cutting of ingredients and lack of strict supervision over the cooks.

Despite a resolution by the Việt Nam General Confederation of Labour last February, which empowered local labour unions to sue directors of enterprises where food poisonings occurred and threatened the lives of workers, no lawsuits were recorded in a recent report on the implementation of this resolution.

The report showed that 60 per cent of the local labour unions had not negotiated with enterprises on providing workers with meals that cost at least VNĐ15,000 ($0.7) each. More than 40 per cent of the local labour unions either gave workers money to buy meals or covered only a part of the cost.

Some experts say one of the reasons authorities are unable to control the quality of workers’ meals is a lack of regulation on the amount of energy and nutritional content each meal should contain. The Department of Food Safety and the National Institute of Nutrition should collaborate to research and set the nutritional content needed in meals for industrial workers.

Local labour unions should collaborate more effectively with concerned authorities to increase supervision and examination of kitchens and food preparation at industrial parks, the experts said.

Trần Thị Thanh Hà, deputy chief of the labour relations department of the labour confederation, said that it is not enough to talk about safe meals and promote safe meal resolutions.

“We proposed to incorporate the safe meal issue into the Labour Code,” she told the Nhân Dân (People). “That way it will have a legal foundation, which will make it difficult for enterprises to overlook.”

Enterprises where food poisonings occurred should compensate the victims as regulated in Article 53 of the Food Safety Law, she said.  — VNS