Memories from Auchan

Auchan is a hipermarkets' network, established by the beginning of 60s by the Mulliez family in France. Today, it's the big international syndicate with the French capital, which is running in all the three continents of the Old World. In Poland, it works from 1996 and has 23 hipermarkets in large cities as well as 2 logistical centers in Wałbrzych and in Grójec. According to the official data, it is employing 9000 workers, yet the real number is much bigger for the basic workforce consists largely of persons hired from Temporary Work Agencies, and some sections (securitas, housework etc.) are fully or partially operated by firms from the outside. Additionally, hipermarkets in Zielona Góra, Legnica, Wałbrzych and Racibórz are administered by the company Schiever Poland, which has granted 50 percent of the profits and which is in fact the employer of the personnel. So the official number of the Auchan's workers in Poland is much smaller than that real.

This corporation offers „the lowest prices", but it also wants to be known for establishing - as the one of the first in the whole branch - of the workers' stockhold, and creates an image of the firm which is not indifferent to the poverty of the Polish children. It is a strategic partner of Polish Humane Action (PAH) and supports „Pajacyk" - boosted program of feeding up children in schools. And... what is the truth?

My first work

By the late September 2006, I went to Fx Work Agency to find a job. Right after I have signed an errand contract I had my first tasks in Auchan in Zielona Góra. I wasn't even 17 then! All the October and November, I had to exhibit commodities in the shop at night. I was going to work at strictly delimited time and carried the manager's orders. At the same time, he was supervising the work of Auchan's crew, which had been in blatant contradiction with civil-law nature of the contract I have had signed and which in fact had meant a concealed relation of work. Of course, I haven't been the only worker under 18 and forced to work at nighttime (from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.), contrary to the Article 203 of the Labour Law. But no one was caring about it, both in Auchan and in Fx Work. According to Article 203 § 2 of the Labour Law, the youth over 16 cannot work daily more than 8 hours (and according to § 3 of that article, the time in school is included in) and Article 203 say it is strictly forbidden to employ youth for overtime! Yet sometimes I was receiving errands to be done from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. (10 hours including 8 at the nighttime) or even from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. (12 hours including 8 at the nighttime) - and surely, no one have been opposing... Simultaneously I tried to continue learning in a high school. Remember I was just 17 - and not at all the youngest!

Underaged workers worked equally hard, and sometimes even harder than the norms of the Labour Law were allowing for an adult. They were driving and put on the shelves large amounts of high-weighting articles: cans, preserves, drinks in glass bottles, 5-liters bottles with mineral water, multi-kg washing powder boxes and much more. Palette with such a stuff which I had to transport palettes that were often higher than me (and I am 182 cm high).

About a half of the November, I was „instructed" to opperate cash. The „instructage" lasted for... about an hour. By the first half an hour I observed a random woman-cashier, and the next half an hour I was opperating cash while guarded by woman-cashier. Another worker has shown me how to behave at treasury's vestibule, i.e. how to turn a float over - which lasted for maybe 15 minutes. After that „instructage" I was already a cashier, responsible for everything I do, and my salary was cut mercilessly every time I had cash shortage. I was initially earning 4 zlotys net for an hour, and after some time 5,40 zlotys net for an hour. I was usually earning 1 zlotys an hour more than Fx Work employees, putting products on shelves.

Workers of the three firms did cash service. Basic crew was from Schiever Poland, and they were fully contracted; workers of Fx Work had civil-law contracts, just like those of Max Personel. All of us - no matter to which firm we were bound - were equally subjected to the same senior manager and the managers of the cash section, and we all have had the same duties though our rates were quite different. Also the method of counting these rates was subjected to particular firm. Even a punishment for cash shortages was different according to particular firm: Fx Work employees had their earning cut and Schiever Poland employees were taught or blamed due to the quantity of the loses made by them.

There was a dubious system of accounts for turning the floats over by workers. Taking wasn't counted in the presence of worker but in the neighboring room. We were transfering money in the one envelope, and coupons and prints from pay-cards terminals in the other, through so called „safe drawer" near a little window to communicate with the workers of the treasury. Everything was pulled out and counted there without our presence, and then we were informed about possible cash shortages and superatas, unable to verify those informations. Often, cash wasn't even counted in Auchan, but in bank which had been sending accounts then. It was common in the evening when the last shift was going home. Workers often were acknowledged with about cash differences through the lists shown in treasury's vestibule. Accounts in holiday periods were sometimes late for two weeks.

From about October 2007, it was hard to find a sigle day in which no one had a cash shortage exceeding 100 zlotys. It was particularely frustrating to the Fx Work employees, whose earning were cut everytime when the cash was lacking. A woman mastering the cash section was accusing us of treating floats like „granting and loaning cashes", which was baseless due to random control of every worker coming out of the market hall. Also Schiever Poland and Max Personel employees suffered cash shortages. It would mean all of the crew working in the cash sector were sophisticated cheaters, or at best we were all muffs, repeatedly executing too little from customers or spending them 100-200 zlotys too much!

About a half of November, I asked the cash manager to employ me on full contract directly in Auchan (Schiever Poland). My plea was approved by high cash manager. From now on, my salary was 900 zlotys gross (about 730 zlotys net) for 3 of permanent employment time. The scope of my duties hasn't been changed. I was subservient to the same managers than earlier while I had been working for Fx Work. Even the new instructage for cash-opperating was considered obsolete to me.

Situation of workers

When I was working in Auchan (until the end of the last year), the salary for common Schiever Poland employee for permanent employment time hadn't exceeded the minimal wage, i.e., 936 zlotys gross, or at best - according to job - was 200-300 zlotys higher. It was common practise that the three months long accounting period wasn't respected and payment for overtimes was delayed. Until this day, nothing has changed a lot, only lowest wages have grown to the level of minimal wage and now they're amounting 1126 zlotys gross.

The employer was ignoring the employees' pleas for sufficient means of work hygiene, like dusters or industrial spiritus for washing cashes. For the lack of spiritus, the workers were often forced to disinfect transmission belts with water. Water is not vaporizing easily so it was trickling on driving-belt mechanism, often causing then short-circuits and ignitions. Also seeking of dusters (there was about one for five cashes) was troubling. The employees told me this problem was still present. Insufficient number of electromotioned carts in magazines was and is still forcing the workers to transport overloaded palettes on manually-motioned carts. There is often only one woman in the shift, forced to take commodities out of the magazine and then put them on shelves in the whole section, with only such a manually-motioned cart. According to the law (Decree of the Council of Ministers on the jobs forbidden to the women, September 10, 1996; Diary of Laws No. 114, position 545), women cannot transport anything of weight over 80 kg. The cart I have just said about is weighting 75 kg, it carries a 10 kg palette, so it is 85 kg when you sum up, and remember also about the commodities transported!

Picket, lost coupons, prosecution and lawsuit

From the beginning of my work, I tried to interest other workers to act to improve the conditions of work and make the rights of workers are respected by the companies. I joined then the All-Polish Trade Union „Workers' Initiative" (OZZIP). I tried to bring Inter-works Committee into life, where the employees of Fx Work, Schiever Poland, IPT Akromar and other firms would have been active. I was organizing the meetings of the workers outside the market, but with little success. I was investigating and gathering the reports on abuses from employees. I was colporting the union bulletin where I reported about current situation at work. After some time I found the people who have joint me so we established the Initiative Group of OZZIP in Auchan.

Between November and December, having sought the opinion of the rest of the group, I have issued a leaflet drawing up the whole situation of the workers in the hipermarket, and violations of the labour law concerning underaged, women and other groups of employees, and I entitled it „Hiper-exploitation in Auchan". We also decided that the picket will take place before the market, and after my call there came the workers of Cegielski's factory in Poznan as well as other tradeunionist from Zielona Góra, Kostrzyn near Odra and Gdańsk. Picketers demanded the growth of salaries for all workers, by 300 zlotys, and the improvement of working conditions, independently of a particular employer. The action found the big interest among the customers. Picketers distributed the leaflets written by me. Securitas asked them to leave and then called the police. All picketers were reported by the police but the protest lasted as it was planned. It was remaining for a whole hour. After it, we the Initiative Group have distributed a leaflet calling not to work in the free days, to which the management called for, promising money equivalent, and which was contrary to Article  15111 §1 and  §2 of the Labour Law. It enables the employers to save money for they don't have then to increase salaries to attract new employees, and instead they, in intensified way, exploit the minimally paid workforce they already have got, and which is deluded with bonus money.

About two weeks after the picket, at December 30, the senior-manager of the cash, Marzena Wawro, called me to the central cash and told me - in a shuffler's way - that at December 18 and 22 I have made cash shortage amounting of about 4000 zlotys. She was asking questions like „which coupons have you undertaken?" and „how many?". While leaving - a lower woman-manager was present then - she was slandering me, saying: „let you seek them well home", just to send me then back to a cash. Amazing: accuse someone of theft and then let him work on cash again! I received float in the cash also next day af if nothing had happened so I went to my work, but the line manager, phoned by high manager, has sent me to central cash. One of the managers has told me there, that decision was taken to dismiss me from my work and she let me wait until formal matters end. So I have written an address to the management, expressing my disagreement with the charges against me and my conviction that they are fraudulent, because the real cause of my dismissal is my activity in the trade union; I have written to them that I would not hesitate to inform prosecutor that the management had committed a criminal act against me.

I was overwhelmed by emotions, so I dictated the letter to a girl who was my colleague. Simultaneously, while the management was receiving my letter, my membership in the union was confirmed through the phone by the people from Country's Committe of OZZIP. After they have received my letter, decision was taken to transfer me to the so called „safe room", usually used to keep the caught thieves until police comes. Securitas escorted me there from the smoking room where I was being together with the other workers, and which earlier had posed no problem. Also, the disciplinary dismissal was handed to me there, and the accusation was clearly formulated now: „The cause of dismissal is the grave abuse of basic employee's duties and the regulations of work, i.e., causing cash shortage amounting to 1147,57 zlotys at 18.12.2007 and to 2901,19 zlotys at 22.12.2007, so that you endangered the employer with financial lose." Of course, the police was also called and it came after about 30 minutes. Policemen went to a cabinet of manager Natasza Bloch, and then one of the managers let me leave „safe room" and go home.

Three days after, the police knocked to my door, with the order to search. Two policemen were searching coupons in my room. And from the very beginning, when they have found leaflets, placards nad books on workers' themes, they understood that „it is a political matter" and then have distanced themselves a little. After they came to conclusion that there were no coupons in my room and after they had consulted their chief (I consistently refused to speak as an accused), they took me to the police station where I was interrogated as a witness. All of these acts were part of the proceeding, undertaken against me by prosecution at the demand of Schiever Poland. Almost simultaneously, I have sued Schiever Poland to labour court, demanding bringing me back to work.

After getting rid of me, the management decided to deal with the other workers so that they would give up engaging in any unionist activity. Managers were spreading the rumours that organizing trade unions and even calling for such an action was... forbidden by inner regulations of work. At the gathering of the employees of IPT Akromar (Auchan's sub-executive), the manager Danuta Dudek threatened that she would cut increases of salaries and would care that other „unpleasant things" happen to those workers about whom she would know they cooperate with unionists. The employees were rabid all the more because of leaflets, permanently distributed in the hipermarket.

The last part of leaflets hasn't been left for even one single hour. There were tens of leaflets informing about the circumstances of my dismissal and announcing the protest action in the whole Poland, i.e., pickets against violating workers' and unionists' rights at the area of the hipermarket - and they were confiscated by the managers just tens of minutes after they were made accessible. Even the call to support striking miners in Budryk was removed from the social rooms. At that day, securitas was more scrupulous while searching bags - they have searched the leaflets.

One and half a week after, Auchan got rid of another OZZIP member - employed on civil-law contract - who was actively distributing the leaflets. The management became manufacturing „proofs" on the employees they didn't like. Cashier Małgorzata Ksiąda have been repeatedly accused of causing cash shortages because she earlier refused to work in the free days guaranteed by law. She has even „caused" one of the shortages in the day when she was absent from work! Dismissals were handed to some persons who refused to come to work in the free days vested in.

After some time we have organized a group of victims of Auchan in Zielona Góra, and then, at January 24, we have sent a call to dismiss the manager of the cash section, Marzena Wawro, to the office of Schiever in Poznań. We prepared a motivation, made up of 13 points. Here are four of them: „5. She enforces with blackmail the work in the free days granted by law. 6. She deprives the employees of the free days granted by law, without their knowledge. 7. She enforces overtime, no matter the circumstances. [...] 10. She confronts the employees submitted to her in order to make them set at variance and to terrify them." We have never got any answer, and Marzena Wawro works in her office until now.

Auchan in Zielona Góra has resigned from the services of Fx Works agency - which had employed many underaged workers - for a short time. But nowadays, this agency is again recruiting employees for Auchan in Zielona Góra. For some time, the system of accounts has changed and the cashiers were enabled to observe the accounts in treasury - the cash shortages have disappeared then! Today, „the situation is unstable", according to the employees.

Investigation against me has been discontinued already in March - after Schiever Poland refused to bring to light the records from monitoring from the days in which I apparently made a theft. My complaint has caused the lawsuit which lasted for half a year. My defender was Agnieszka Rybak-Starczak, who was earlier defending Jacek Rosołowski, dismissed for trying to establish OZZIP Committee in Impel Tom. The primary trial occurred as early as February 5. At the second trial, I have been investigated in an informational way. At the third trial, witnesses established by my side have been testified. Schiever Poland has added to the acta the note, made by Marzena Wawro, stating she apparently had already known at December 18 that my float lacked a huge amount of coupons. After the fourth trial, the lawsuit has ended with an agreement. It wasn't a final that me and other employees, engaged in the struggle against the corporation, have dreamt of. There was a large probability that the judge will close the suit because of the bad reputation of the side sued. The proxy of Schiever Poland, Dominik Matuliński, had been defending his side with... the mess in its documents. He had put into doubt if Schiever Poland had been ever employing me, though both the merit of my contract and the paragon of work made clear that it was exactly that firm which had been my employer: Schiever Poland with the main bureau in Poznań. Among the things that were apparently testifying against it, were a seal of Auchan on my contract, and documents, presented by Matuliński, confirming that it hadn't been the company from Poznań, but directly Auchan, which had been paying me for my work. In fact, Schiever Poland confirmed that the accusation of theft against me was untrue when it resigned to demand to return them 4000 zlotys, changed the mode of dismissal from disciplinary to agreement of sides, and obligated itself to put me a new paragon of work with a new content.


During the length of the lawsuit, many solidarity pickets have been conducted near the shops of the Auchan network in different cities of Poland and France. Since the beginning, the French trade union National Confederation of Work had been active there. Unfortunately, despite their success and help to me, Auchan didn't resign to violate the labour law in its markets. State Inspection of Work (PIP) confirmed it later, writing in its letter directed to OZZIP: „the [union's] charge of not paying in term the salary have been confirmed in the case of other employees. Moreover, abuses of labor law as well as safety and hygiene of work were detected, concerning among others the time of work, payment of salaries and instructage about safety and hygiene of work." These are the same charges I presented already half a year earlier and because of which I lose my job. Today, Auchan in Zielona Góra is in crisis for the considerable number of employees left for newly-emerging trade center. Despite of that, the management failed to decide to increase the salaries and significantly improve the conditions of work.

Even worse news are emerging from our eastern neighbors in Ukraine. As the unionists from the newly-formed initiative group of „Defense of Work" union are reporting, in Auchan in Kiev the working day is 16 and even 20 hours long! Moreover, many workers were invited to work without the adnotations in work book and insurance book, despite the Ukrainian law demands it. In result, they have found themselves deprived of all rights. Unionists have already faced repressions. Some of them, including the founder of the group Alexander Ruzhinsky, were dismissed. Those who were dismissed are now fighting before the court in Kiev to be restored to work.

Piotr Krzyżaniak

OZZ Inicjatywa Pracownicza
Komisja Krajowa

ul. Kościelna 4/1a, 60-538 Poznań
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