Repression against trade union activists in Poland

In the past months, number of repressions against inconvenient trade union activists have raised in Poland. Despite the legal protection employers dismiss them on the basis of the article 52 of the Labour Code. The article lets to brake a contract of employment without giving a notice to a workers only when they heavily violate their duties, commit a crime (when the crime is obvious or is judged by court), or if workers thorough their fault have lost qualifications needed for the job. Heavy violation of worker's duties means for instance drinking in a workplace. In Poland the law protects some trade unionists from dismissals in order to protect them against repressions. It means that an employer must not fire an activist without a permission of the committee of trade union the worker belongs to. Obviously when unionist really violate the law (for example drinks or steals) the committee usually agrees to dismiss him.
Polish employers often do not obey the legal protection of the unionists and consciously brake the law and fire them with the use of disciplinary course. Slow proceedings in court help in such activity. Trials last for many months, while workers do not have work and income. That makes them give up their struggle, reach a compromise with the employer, take a relatively high compensation or start working in a different workplace- all that cause that employers continue with impunity their exploitation. In other cases even if the court decides to restore the employee to work, in the meantime employer apply repressions against other members of the trade union. Intimidated people under the threat of next dismissals give up their activity in the trade union, which fall apart. So unionist who legally come back to the company lose the legal protection and then, without no obstacles, employer fires him. Such behaviour is not only violation of the labour code and act about trade union but also a constitutional right for gatherings in a workplace and for union activity. The cases when it is a state who breaks those rights are especially outrageous (joint-stock companies or state institutions) as that way state sets a bad example and negative standards for other companies.

Cases of breaking a right for a legal protection

1. Slawomir Kaczmarek is a chairman of a committee of All-Polish Trade Union
Workers' Initiative in the Uniontex S.P. company in Lodz. He was given a sack on December 2004, in spite of the fact that he was legally protected from dismissal. His dismissals was connected with the plan of the management to get rid of workers who have been co-founders of the plant and take over their shares. Uniontex S.P. was found in 2003 as a employee-owned firm, in order to save workplaces when Uniontex S.A.- company of cotton industry- had been closed. The committee of Workers' Initiative was created in the factory on September 2004. The workers through trade union wanted to create a counterbalance toward management to fight against low salaries and to protest against breaking rules of occupational safety and health. Unfortunately management acting illegally decided to fire a chairman of the committee, Slawomir Kaczmarek. The suit has been brought to the Labour Court but is still in progress while Kaczmarek stays unemployed and of poor financial condition.

2. On 14th of November two-hour warning strike took place in a coal mine Budryk in Ormontowice organized by "Sierpien 80" ("August 80") trade union. All crew from the first shift took part in the strike. They protested against the management of the mine, that hadn't acknowledged a collective dispute and notoriously avoided taking negotiations with the crew who demanded a rise in salaries and collective litigation. In response the management disciplinarily fired 12 unionists of "Sierpien 80" (allegedly for taking part in the "illegal" protest and hunger strike). Some of the 12 fired did not even participate in the protest. The real cause of the dismissal was a membership of the "Sieprien 80". Krzysztof Łabądź, one of the 12 fired workers, was protected by the law. National Labour Inspectorate has regarded dismissal as blatant violation of the labour code. An application against two members of the management who signed the decision about dismissals has been sent to court.

3. On the basis of the article 52 of labour code the management of the Jutrzenka factory - a popular producer of sweets - has dismissed Dariusz Skrzypczak, the chairman of the Solidarity trade union in Goplana company in Poznan (from January 2005 owned by Jutrzenka). He was fired on disciplinary grounds for the interview published in local press. Although Skrzypczak had only confirmed the fact that Jutrzenka had introduced new conditions of wages, which are unfavorable for most of the workers of Goplana, the management of the plant acknowledged those words as harmful to the company. It is the second attempt to fire Skrzypczak - the first one took place at the beginning of year 2005. In the middle of December leaflets were distributed by another trade union - the Workers' Initiative that act in the factory in secret. The leaflets attacked the management of Jutrzenka for an attempt to cut workers' wages in spite of high profit reached by the factory. When Jutrzenka has taken over the Goplana, its profit has increased significantly. The Workers' Initiative have appealed to the staff to prepare for a strike and called for a collective industrial dispute. The information about unrest in the factory got into the Poznan's papers. On the 27th of December the chairman of Solidarity trade union in Goplana was informed about the readiness of giving him a sack on the basis of the article 52. In spite of the law and opposition of the trade union Skrzypczak has been given a sack on the 29th of December and was forbidden to enter the premises of the factory.

4. The management of the Frito Lay factory in Grodzisk owned by PepsiCo corporation disciplinarily fired a chairmen of "Solidarity" trade union Slawomir Zagrajek. A year before female workers of the factory accused one of the manager of sexual harassment. Women were fired and the "Solidarity" trade union decided to fight for them and publicized the case. The management of PepsiCo stated that any harassment took place, even that a prosecutor claimed that there is enough evidences to raise an accusation of molesting to court. The trial is still in a progress. "Solidarity" has accused Frito Lay of violating workers rights many times, some of accusations were confirmed by the National Labour Inspectorate. The situation between trade union and management was very tense, as long as PepsiCo with the use of the press dismissed the inconvenient unionist. He was accused of lying on the number of members of the union he was head of and of wheedling money out of the company. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has stood in defence of the Zagrajek.

5. On the 11th of March 2005 Wlodzimierz Golaszewski, a chairmen of the "Solidarnosc 80" ("Solidarity 80") trade union was disciplinarily dismissed under the pretext of improper application for a vacation.

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