Chinese company fined for its dangerous working conditions

Download article in original language : NL9710141NNL.DOC

The police court for economic offences recently fined the Chinese company, First Metalurgical Construction Corporation (FMCC), for violating the Working Conditions Act. During the demolition of two blast furnaces, FMCC employees worked at great heights under conditions that did not adequately comply with the applicable safety regulations. As a consequence, one employee died in an accident in April 1997.

The police court for economic offences has imposed a fine of NLG 13,000 on the Chinese company, First Metalurgical Construction Corporation (FMCC), due to violations of the Working Conditions Act (Arbo-wet). FMCC was involved in demolishing two blast furnaces on the premises of Hoogovens in IJmuiden. Since the dismantling began in September 1996, 14 accidents have occurred, two of which were fatal. After Industriebond FNV, the industrial workers' union affiliated to the Dutch Trade Union Federation, reported on the dangerous working conditions, improvements were introduced on the insistence of the Labour Inspectorate. The Labour Inspectorate discovered that employees were working at great heights without fastening their safety harnesses. In one case, this led to a fatal injury. The police court has found FMCC responsible for this accident. FMCC had already been fined for three similar violations of the Working Conditions Act in the past. So far, no decision has been made with regard to the other fatal accident. The dismantling of the two blast furnaces has since been completed.

For a long time, it was unclear which company should be held responsible for providing safe working conditions (NL9707124N). The blast furnaces were sold by the Dutch company Hoogovens to Indonesia's Gunawan Iron and Steel. Gunawan contracted out the dismantling to its subsidiary, the Donau Trading Corporation. Donau then hired the China-based enterprise CMIC to engineer the activities, and the Chinese company FMCC to do the work. According to the police court, the latter should have ensured safe working conditions. The police court stated that an employer can, if necessary, force its employees to comply with safety regulations.

The Dutch Government recently agreed with a legislative proposal to empower the Labour Inspectorate to fine employers for violating the Working Conditions Act. This will make intervention of the police court unnecessary, and will reduce the time between the safety violation and possible corrective measures. The Government hopes that this will improve the enforcement of the Act, and prevent prolonged unsafe working conditions, such as the demolition of the blast furnaces, from occurring in the future.

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