Worst Employers on the Defensive

This year for the third year in a row, ZSP held a competition for the “Worst Boss of the Year”. Hundreds of workers write with stories of exploitation, harassment and bad working conditions. After checking details and much consideration the “awards” are given, and information from the employees is published and spread in the media. We also give information about other complaints: all the bosses are bad and deserve criticism and it is truly difficult to know which of the candidates are worse!
This year, 2 of the 3 worst employees have publicly reacted to the contest, denying the workers' testimonies. In addition, one has threatened to sue us. In response, more and more employees of these companies are writing in support, providing more testimony and evidence against these employers.

Empik is the largest chain of bookshops in Poland. Last year, many employees of the chain wrote to us complaining, but it was not chosen: there were too many other bad bosses. This year, many employees wrote again, showing us that nothing has changed in the company. As an example of mass scale worker exploitation, and a employer representing typical problems of such work in shops, we chose Empik for the 3rd place in the competition. Among the problems described was widespread (and in some places universal) forced overtime, including overnight shifts with no extra pay, notorious delays in payment in many shops, lack of payment for some workers, gross pay differences ( people in the same job in the same shop can earn totally different salaries), poor pay in comparison to similar shops in the industry and violation of health and safety regulations. Workers also described how their bonuses were cut so that they all earn less. Some people described having similar accidents: for example, the storerooms were so loaded with books that when you needed to get them, you had to reach for them yourself and they could easily fall, or the worker could fall. Several such needless accidents were described.

The Empik PR Department got on the case after the news became more widely distributed. They „deny everything” and say they are very good bosses, but a lot of their workers are saying otherwise. They also sent a letter to ZSP demanding that we remove information about them from the internet and threatening to sue us. After publishing this letter, more workers and ex-workers contacted us and even offered to testify in court about the working conditions. We suppose Empik will just wait and try to make good PR instead of improving working conditions. For that, the employees have to organize. One comrade is trying to make a union but she says that it is difficult with all the students on trash contracts who are only thinking of leaving the place as soon as possible.

Another company which commented in the newspaper and other media is OBI, a chain of house and gardening supplies which was engaged in union busting. Our comrade was working in one shop and a union was formed, only the second one ever in this huge chain. (The first one, formed in 2001 in Warsaw, was also the victim of a union-busting campaign.) Unfortunately, the workers wanted to be with a mainstream union, although ZSP also did agitation and had a presence in the conflict. Half of the unionists are already gone, either fired or not having their contracts renewed (basically firing). So the union does not legally exist anymore, since it is less than 10 people. Not that it matters: the mainstream union had already sold out the workers struggle. They convinced the first person who was fired to make a deal and not to push for reinstatement. When ZSP and FAU made solidarity campaigns, at the request of the workers, the union bureaucrats signed a statement with the firm disclaiming the protests. And when our comrade or the others were fired, they did nothing... except perhaps breath a sigh of relief and convince the others not to complain. Finally, they withdrew the union's demands with OBI. As we say in ZSP, such unions belong in the cemetery.

Besides the bad working conditions in OBI (described among other places here), OBI took second place in the competition because they were the best example of union busting in the past year. Despite the fact that OBI denies their union busting activity, they did not threaten to sue us – probably because it is easy to imagine that all the fired unionists are angry.

Other employers which were chosen include 3 factories, a night club and a hospital. Among the problems described were not allowing workers to talk to each other during work, firing them for taking toilet breaks without permission, forced overtime, banning workers from having social relationships with each other (!), working in 40 degree heat with no air conditioning, the company doing nothing to prevent serious injuries or provide sufficient medical attention when they occurred, widespread illegal use of trash contracts (in one factory only 10 people out of a 700 person staff had employment contracts, although the rest should be legally considered employees), forcing people to work long hours without breaks, or shifts two days in a row, without sufficient time between for sleep, paying less than the minimum wage, charging customers for the „service” of waiters but not paying the workers any of this money, mobbing and illegal firing of protected unionists.

ZSP normally also distributes information or hangs posters about these problems at these workplaces and tries to inform more people about the rights they have at work and encourage them to organize and fight.

The page of the competition is here (in Polish): www.najgorsipracodawcy.pl

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