As Latin America wrestles with a surging death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic, a new report by Chilean Fundación SOL finds that employees from various clinics owned by the German multinational Fresenius —which operates in Chile under the brand Nephorocare—are risking exposure to the coronavirus without proper personal protective equipment (PPE). And in some cases, they are forced to buy their own gear, while management are given access to protective equipment more suitable for frontline workers.
Ana Galván, nurse and president of the Nephrocare Chile Union, who is waiting for the test result to find out if she contracted the virus, said: “The union sent an email asking for more protection and security measures, but the company replied that they were not going to do it because there were no infected employees.”
According to the union, N95 masks have only been delivered to company officials and not to those frontline workers who have direct contact with patients. One of the workers who wished to remain anonymous highlighted this problem: “The N95, which is the ideal mask, but it´s only being used by the bosses when patients who are positive come in. This is discrimination. We have fought but are left with no other choice but to buy our protective equipment.”
Marcio Monzane, regional secretary of UNI Americas, regional office of UNI Global Union, the world federation of service unions including care workers, said: “In Chile, we are seeing what the consequences are when profits are put above the health of workers. We make a public call for the government to effectively demand the implementation of the protocols and for companies like Fresenius to put workers´ health first and recognize that COVID19 is a dangerous occupational disease.”
Headquartered in Bad Homburg, Germany, Fresenius is a healthcare giant that employs 290,000 workers around the world and records about 30 billion euros ($32.3 billion) in annual sales but the company´s brand is facing scrutiny over treatment of workers and it´s response to COVID19 in Colombia and Chile.