Harsh Chemicals burn worker’s skin

KC JOURNAL NO 27 JULY 2011

Janise Botstander* gives an account of farmworker Willem Vink’s, skin poisining and his dismissal.

Willem Vink is a 54 year old man. He worked on a farm in Somerset East called Lamero, from 2001-2005. Lamero is a sheep and goat producing farm. Willem was employed as a general worker on the farm and his primary responsibility was to dip the sheep. Sheep were dipped with Deadline and ‘Spykergif’. The farm owner did not provide workers with any protective clothing except for rain overalls. Willem had to smear (spread) the poison on the sheep with his bare hands, without any protective gloves.

Hospitalisation

Two weeks after he first worked with poisonous stuff, Willem felt his whole body burning and he broke out in a serious rash. His hands were particularly sore. He reported this to the farm manager who took him to local hospital. Willem was admitted to hospital for two weeks. By the third week his skin began to form a hard layer. The doctors decided to keep him in hospital longer as his skin condition failed to improve, the doctors at Somerset East hospital transferred Willem to a hospital in Port Elizabeth. Here doctors placed him in a bath for many hours which resulted in his becoming soft again and peeling off. Eventually he was released from hospital.

Dismissal

While Willem was in hospital, the farm manager provided his wife with food from his weekly wages. Willem went back to the farm to recover but soon after the farm manager asked him to leave the farm as he was no longer fit to work. Willem’s wife was also asked to leave the farm. Willem went to the nearby town of Murraysburg to see if he could find a house. While he was in Murraysburg, the farm manager took a decision that he should not return to the farm. He sent him a termination letter saying his services were not needed on the farm and that he should not return to the farm. Willem is permanently disfigured and cannot work for longer periods in the sun as his skin is too sensitive.


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