Workers illegally fired in Poland's Special Zone of Exploitation - interview, 2006

An interview with Jacek Rosolowski, a sacked member of Workers Initiative about his job and organising drive in Poland's Special Economic Zone.

How long did you work for Impel-Tom? Where did you work before?
I got a job in September 2005. Before I couldn’t find any job. I worked on a construction-sites, took some seasonal and temporary jobs. In the city where I live (Kostrzyn on the Oder river, western Poland) the situation on the market is tragic. There are no big factories here. We have a cosmic unemployment- around 30 per cent. But it is even worse in the south of the area - the highest unemployment in EU.

Hasn’t Kostrzyn-Slubiece Special Economic Zone, located almost in all province, improved workers’ conditions?
Thanks to the zone unemployment in the area has slightly declined, but the stir made around it before has turned out to be highly exaggerated. Few workplaces have been created (according to data from 2004 there was 1750 new workplaces); ICT (an Italian corporation) employs 200 people, Podravka Poland - 100, and there are plants that employ not more than 20 people. All companies have been given high tax allowances, but there is no real effect of that on the local market.

Are workers’ rights are obeyed in the Zone?
I’ve written about it in a local newspaper - exactly about lack of trade unions in the Zone. In last 3-4 years only one trade union has been founded in ICT, but it hasn’t been working actively. There are no more unions and no perspective for them to be founded. It is because most people work for determined periods, without contracts, for unspecified time. At one point it was easier to organise unemployed people in order to improve situation on the market. We were able to form committees of the unemployed in a few Polish cities (Szprotawa, Gubin, Krosno, Kostrzyn, Gorzow etc.) and made quite big protests there. It was kind of small social movement that engaged around 2,000 people. But somehow it stopped being active. In my opinion there is no point in organising the unemployed in separate structures. I haven't had a chance to work within a trade union as I just haven't worked much in jobs with specified contract.

An Impel-Tom company, where you finally found a job, is working mostly for ICT, as an outsourcing company for that Italian paper-making corporation. What did you do there?
Impel-Tom delivers security and cleaning service for ICT (cleaning of machines and factories, cleaning at height etc.). I did cleaning in a group of 20 people. It was an easy job. I had a cleaning vehicle. In the paper making factory there is a strong dust in the air and everything is white, so you have to clean all the time. There are 40-45 people working for the Impel, and another 50 are at the disposal of the company whenever they call them (those have a contract to perform a specified task or work or a temporary contract)

How much did you earn?
The salaries are at starvation level, slightly above minimal wage, what means 650 zloty (165 Euro) take-home. But the company observes basic rules of employment, for instance an 8 hour workday. There is no overtime, so there is no rights abuse in this field. The wage was usually on time. The biggest problem are low wages and that is the reason why there such a fast turnover of people- some give up job and immediately employed elsewhere. Anyone who finds something better, wants to get away form Impel. Two people who worked before me have moved to London to clean airports there.

We were promised a pay rise since January. But on the day when we were given our January wage, it turned out that there was no rise, and a few people started to make a fuss. Workers wanted to meet someone from the management, but they refused. We decided to call them. I was chosen, as the rest were frightened, so I called them and said that there was no pay rise, as promised. They answered that they have to sign a contract with ICT first, and they can talk with us after. We were told before by a foreman that a decision on a pay rise had been already made and signed. The next day the foreman looked for the one who dared to call the management. That moment we came to the conclusion that we have to form a trade union. So 12 of us signed declarations to join the Workers Initiative but we were unable to make a starting meeting, as we work for different shifts in different places.

How did they fire you?
I started to feel a turmoil around me, although nobody had warned me that I could be fired. They wanted to take me by surprise. When I came to work on 7th of March (that day we planned to have a meeting of all unionists), I was given the sack shortly after entering the plant. I asked for a reason, but the foreman told me he knew nothing. I went to a changing-room and I showed the paper to the people. Everybody were nervous, some get really scared. One man said that now all of us would be fired. It was difficult for me to talk to the people, there was also the foreman in the room, who kept the management’s side. He told me directly: “You should ask management whether it is possible to form a trade union in that plant”. That day the rest of workers who wanted to join the union weren’t allowed to enter the factory. The same with those who didn't show up to work that day. I was given an obligatory leave during the time of dismissal, to not show up in the factory. Immediately next person was employed instead of me. On the 8th of March I couldn’t enter the factory so I called my colleagues. I met few of them outside the factory. They told me that the manager had intimidated people and told them that he had a notice for everybody already prepared.

What do you think now?
I think that some people would like to join a trade union, but the rest are intimidated. They are afraid of being fired. They have wives, kids, financial obligations, they are afraid of being unemployed. And as I have already mention, it is difficult here to find any job, even the worse paid one.

Next member of Workers Initiative illegally fired
On the 8th of March 2006 the Impel -Tom company illegally fired Jacek Rosolowski for trying to found a trade union within the Impel-Tom company. It is the latest example of the last wave of repression against trade union activists in Poland. 1

12 workers of 40 employed for the Impel-Tom department in Kostrzyn decided to found a commission of the Workers' Initiative All-Polish Trade Union. Most of them signed a member declaration on the 28th of February. On the 2nd of March Rosolowski informed the National Committee of Workers' Initiative about their plans. The management got know about it and in order to prevent him from organising a union, and to intimidate workers, fired Rosolowski on the 8th of March. One day later another worker who encouraged forming a union has been given a notice too. The rest were threatened with dismissal.

Jacek Rosolowski has asked the Labour Court to invalidate the dismissal as according to the Polish Labour Code it is illegal to discriminate any worker for union activity. No matter if a worker is a permanent or temporary contract worker, like Rosolowski was. A right to associating in self-governing and independent unions is a constitutional right (article 57 and 59 of act 1). According to the Trade Union Act people who make obstruct organising a trade union can be prosecuted.

The Impel-Tom company is a part of the Impel S.A. holding, which is the biggest group of outsourcing companies in Poland in security, cleaning and catering sectors. In 2005 it employed more than 17,000 workers including the disabled, which let the company get subsidies from the state. In 2005 its turnover was about 627 million zloty and the company made 21 million zloty profit. Impel S.A. is listed on the Warsaw stock exchange. In 2002 Impel was famous for its brutal pacification of the protest organised by workers of the Cable Factory in Ozarow, making orders for Boguslaw Ciupiala, owner of Tele-Fonika company.
Campaign for Temporary Workers and Emigrants

We document the following call, although we fundamentally question the attempt to “unionise” workers. In most of the cases the existing union bodies defend the standards of permanent workers not (only) against the bosses, but (also) against the temporary or immigrant workers. The German construction workers union organised a hotline and called for denunciation of illegal immigrant workers on contruction sites. Often enough the attempt to establish formal structures like unions, which have to be accepted by both state and employers, lead to the dismissals of those who want to form them. We have to find deeper rooted and more imaginative forms of organising, according to each and every situation of exploitation. [Ppnew]

Every year more than 700 thousand Polish workers go to Western Europe to look for any work. They are ready to work for the lowest wages and in terrible conditions, just to make some money and earn enough to support their families back in Poland. Without a doubt, this situation is unacceptable. For the last three years our trade union together with other Polish trade unions has run the Campaign for Seasonal Workers and Emigrants (Kampania na rzecz Pracowników Sezonowych i Imigrantow). The purpose of the campaign is to inform workers who plan to go abroad about their rights. We also want to urge them to join a trade union in the country of their present residence and encourage them to take actions for workers’ and unions rights. All that has one aim only – to oppose exploitation.

As part of our Campaign for Seasonal Workers and Emigrants we run a website (www.sezonowi.org), talk about the problem in the media, spread information through different kind of actions, publish brochures on work regulations and finally, we actively react, intervene and support workers whose rights are violated. We think that the fight for workers’ rights needs consolidated efforts of all trade unions, especially those who uncompromisingly stand against capitalist abuse. Therefore we would like to suggest cooperation and coordination of actions on Campaign for Polish Seasonal Workers and Emigrants. We believe that together we are able to limit and eventually stop the exploitation of cheap manpower from Eastern Europe – to the advantage of the whole working class.

There are information actions planned in around 80 Polish town and cities, including universities, actions on borders etc. If you would like to get engaged- contact us: ip@post.pl

[prol-position news #6 | 7/2006] www.prol-position.net

  • 1. Report: Repression against trade union activists in Poland-http://www.workers-initiative.poland.prv.pl/raport_represion.htm