The ZSP union in Poland is currently involved in several important struggles against the exploitation of especially vulnerable categories of workers such as the elderly and people with disabilities. The union is taking on the exploitative practices of outsourcing and the way of conducting public tenders.
A group of workers in Belchatow hospital have decided to fight. Around Poland, hospitals have been outsourcing work such as cleaning, cooking and meal serving, throwing the workers to the wolves. Once stable jobs have been turned into precarious work, sometimes performed for subminimum wages.
The cleaning and food servicing were outsourced to a company called Cooperative for the Disabled, Naprzod. All of the workers have some form of disability and most are women over 40, 50, 60. Such workers are often treated extremely poorly and, desperate for any employment, many find themselves forced to take subminimum wage jobs. In Poland where the minimum wage does not apply to so-called „civil contracts” to perform services, the use of such contracts are massively abused to pay workers less than the minimum wage (currently around 400 euros per month gross).
These particular workers had an employment contract and a minimum wage but when the contractor changed, the new firm did not want them, preferring to employ new people on trash contracts and subminimum wages. Naprzod said that they transferred the workers to the new company, but the new company denies this and rejects the workers. Naprzod did not terminate the workers' contracts because they claim they were transferred, thus none of the workers can get unemployment benefits or are covered by health insurance.
This is a huge problem in Poland where the neoliberal dismantlement of stable employment and attacks on the labour law has created many legal opportunities for the extreme exploitation of workers and has lifted many obligations of the employers. Firms now break and go around the law with near impunity as the state and its institutions justify these manoeuvres in practice.
The problem of the Belchatow workers is not isolated. ZSP has also been dealing with the case of former airport cleaners who also were „transferred” and not taken by the new contractor. In the case, the crass abuse of corporations has been witnessed as the companies change business names, open and wind up corporations, transfer assets and do everything, including stripping the company of all its assets, to avoid responsibility to the workers. The criminal actions of these corporations have met with inaction from the state, which is complicit in this system.
The workers in Belchatow, who have been sitting in at the hospital for weeks, are now threatened by the director, a member of the ultra-liberal ruling party.
After direct actions, including a visit to the Voivodship office, a new tender will be held and we demand that the workers be hired back to the hospital as a condition of the tender. (And, eventually hired back directly to the hospital.) Negotiations will take place on Monday and we are hoping for a resolution. If this happens, it will be a major victory. Most workers in this situation have little success. They are isolated from each other and in many cases, the mainstream unions will not touch this subject. Although there were mainstream unions present at the Belchatow hospital, none of them made any effort to organize or help their colleagues, many of whom had been working in the hospital for decades.
Right now, every victory for vulnerable categories of workers against this ultra-exploitation is hugely important. It is also important that such efforts come from outside the mainstream since those unions have been part of the status quo that have created this tragic situation for the working class in Poland.
Over the last year, we have seen various actions against one ultra-exploiter, the Impuls work agency, which specializes in senior citizens and disabled workers, offering 80 euro cents per hour – about one third of the current minimum wage. Without benefits or obligations. But even that they did not pay, leading to actions against this employer. Although direct actions have gained workers close to 50,000 euros in payments, the problem of this firm and ones like it is far from resolved. In a new case with this company, ZSP found that the public tender almost guaranteed that the workers would not be paid.
The main criteria for awarding public tenders in price. In the case of the tender for workers at a famous folk theater, Impuls offered a price so low that it wouldn't be able to pay anything to the workers.
ZSP has criticized the tendency to outsource work and create crap employment, especially in the public sector. But if contracts are to be awarded, it maintains that ensuring at least a legal minimum wage and correct working conditions must be a criteria for using any company.
It is clear that the neoliberal ruling party is not in favour, but there is already some political support for these postulates. Simply put, Poland cannot afford its policies anymore. There is a huge deficit, a very low tax base and the social security system is bankrupt due to the abuse of trash contracts and extremely low wages being paid to a large portion of workers.
In the fall we will be intensifying the campaigns against the public tender system, outsourcing and other abuse against workers. In the meanwhile, we will continue to fight for the jobs of the Belchatow workers and ask for shows of solidarity from the international community. You can help by spreading the word about the situation or sending a protest letter via this online form: