Dismissed workers occupy factory in Poland

Dismissed workers occupy factory in Poland

200 workers recently dismissed from Thomson in a Warsaw suburb occupy factory in the hopes of getting promised compensation.

Thomson factory in the Warsaw suburb of Piaseczno produces TV glass (screens and tubes). A few years ago, the Indian firm Videocon purchased all of Thomson's TV glass factories. Videocon planned to restructure the company and introduce LCD production in Piaseczno. Of course it also wanted to move large parts of production to other countries and integrate with its glass panel production in India.

Thomson factories purchased by Videocon in Mexico and Italy did not fair well. In Mexico there was downsizing but in Italy this has been mitigated by state aid. (Videocon demanded huge incentives from the Mexican government.) The plant in low-cost China on the other hand, is "doing well".

A couple of years ago, 5000 people were employed in the Piaseczno factory. 4700 people have been dismissed since Videocon purchased the factory. In documents sent to the Solidarity union in the factory, the new owners complained that "salaries were too high". Arvind Bali, vice-president of Videocon told the paper "Puls Biznesu" in late 2007 that planned investments in Poland were delayed for two reasons: "We did not get support from the government and we have problems with the union. We expect change in both cases."

What change? Videocon was counting on aid from the new government and knew that the collective work agreement would expire in June 2008.

The first mass reduction hit 1000 people (justified by decreased demand for glass screens, even though the factory was getting huge orders from Russia and Turkey). Then salaries were lowered by 40 percent for the summer. Videocon did not want to pay people proper compensation and did everything it could so that people "voluntarily" left their jobs. Some took pay cuts. Videocon was asking everybody to take a 30% cut. In the end, almost everybody was fired.

The 200 people who are occupying the factory were already dismissed. They were supposed to get their salaries and "compensation" - up to 15000 zl (about 3500 euros). The money was to be paid by January 10th. So far, nobody has received anything.

The head of the Solidarity union tried to convince the workers to go home and even to convince them that the money was transfered to their accounts. But in the age of mobile phones, it's easy enough to check. The workers say they are not going until they have confirmation of payment.

Some of the workers said that they were afraid that the company was going to cheat them. They claim that technically, they are employed by a company called Eagle Corporation registered in the Cayman Islands. Videocon increased their stake in the offshore company to 81% before they purchased Thomson's operations. The workers noticed the financial condition of Eagle and are worried that Videcon could potentially rip them all off if they are not responsible for Eagle's liabilities.

Dozens of former employees have already filed lawsuits against the company for unlawful dismissal.