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(en) Portugal, "Luta Social"* #5/6 - Jerónimo Martins (Biedronka) , Poland: a sad record of workers rights violations [pt]

Date Sat, 27 Aug 2005 10:49:58 +0300


To: <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Subject: Portugal, "Luta Social*" #5/6 - Jerónimo Martins (Biedronka) , Poland: a sad record of workers rights violations [pt]

We obtained those data from L.A. (member of Polish AF**) and we wish to
thank her. In our ‘blog’ you can read a version with various links
(http://luta-social.blogspot.com/) to several news that circulated in the internet.
It is our duty to organise a boycott and denouncing campaign of Jerónimo
Martins supermarket chains (Pingo Doce, Feira Nova...) not just in
solidarity with the polish workers but also because it is very likely that
the below described situations occur also in Portugal, but being covered
by a silence veil, due to fear from bosses repression.
Portuguese company Jeronimo Martins owns the supermarket chain Biedronka,
which is the largest chain in Poland. (JM is owned in turn 49% by Royal
Ahold.) In Brazil and Portugal, its markets are called Pingo Doce, Feira
Nova, Madeira, and Recheio (also Hipers, Mini-Hipers). Over the past 2
years, Biedronka has been the focus of numerous labour conflicts,
lawsuits, a modest anarchist protest campaign and most recently, the first
large class action lawsuit taken against an employer in Poland. (It is
only the second class action ever taken in Poland.) Biedronka's treatment
of labor is well known in this country and has been the subect of numerous
articles and TV reports.

100 ex-employees of the supermarket chain have filed a class action suit
against Biedronka for 2 million zl. (666,000 dollars) in compensation for
thousands of hours of unpaid overtime work. Last year, Bozena Lopacka, a
store manager from Elblag, filed suit against Biedronka for unpaid
overtime and won her case. However, Martins appealed the case and the
award was overturned. Lopacka, who has proved to be a real fighter, took
the case back to court; it started again last Friday (29 of July, 2005).

Biedronka owns more than 700 supermarkets in Poland and employs about
10,000 people. In May 2004, labour inspectors monitored 229 supermarkets
and found numerous violations of the labour code. They found that
Biedronka employees worked 12 hours and more per day with no overtime pay,
that they had pay deductions taken out by various irregular and illegal
means, and that female employees were forced to lift weights which
exceeded the health and safety norms. A number of cases were referred to
the public prosecutor after this inspection. Solidarity unions were
organized in some of the supermarkets.

In one case, 21 year old Aneta Glinska of Ustka died after lifting heavy
weights. Biedronka does not employ people specially to unload trucks and
lift packages and only recently got some special equipment. Cashiers,
mostly women, are forced to move the packages. They have to push things on
carts weighing up to one ton.

Katarzyna Wiktorzak, who did this kind of work while pregnant, had a
miscarriage.
For this work, Wiktorzak earned from 700 to 820 zl. gross. (Up to 200 euro
a month before taxes.)

The State Labour Inspectorate continued to make controls at Biedronka. A
total of 678 were made last year. They noted 3813 violations and 112
people were fined a total of 48,920 zl. (This included fines against
middle managers.) One person was charged with a criminal offense. The
Inspectorate filed 14 requests with prosecutors' offices were they suspect
other criminal felonies were committed and asked them to investigate. 5
789 workers were paid 763,339 z³ (almost 200,000 euros) in overtime
payments.

Among the labor abuses found, in addition to the abovementioned, were that
they falsified records of people's working hours and falsified an account
of an accident which took place during working hours. 47% of all shops
inspected had improper evidence of working hourings, 28% falsified records
on overtime, 39% did not ensure workers the statutory rest time between
days worked (which also mean that they were obliged to pay overtime), 68%
did not organize people's working hours in accordance with regulations,
32% improperly lowed the workers' pay, 54% did not meet hygenic standards,
etc. etc. In the overwhelming majority of stores, work regulations which
contradicted the labour code were also enforced.

Amazingly, the firm Jeronimo Martins seems to be passing the buck and
mostly blaming middle managers on the whole fiasco. Pedro Da Silva, the
CEO claims, "We never forced anyone to act contrary to the law". Now the
bosses and work inspectors say that the middle managers have been
specially trained to make proper work schedules, a hotline was set up so
that workers could report abuse to the board, etc. etc. But looking at
Jeronimo Martin's economic performance, one notes that restructuring and
labour exploitation in Poland greatly improved its profitability.

In 2000, JM claimed that Poland was draining it and causing it to have
stark losses. Its yearly report spoke of "the Polish nightmare".However,
something changed in the profitability in Poland. (And if we are to
believe the capitalists (which we don't), it has nothing to do with all
those poorly trained middle managers falsifying overtime records.) In
Poland, sales in 2003 were over 925 million euros and in 2004, over
1,059,000,000 euros, accounting for 30% of JM sales. In 2004, they
announced a 78% increase in half-yearly profits and admitted that their
high profit was driven by Biedronka.

Further, it is not clear whether or not the State Inspectorate or
Solidarity is really following up with implementing changes required at
Biedronka. Workers keep reporting irregularities. The JM company for
example has taken out ads in the major press claiming that cashiers get
physicals which show if they are capable of carrying out their work, which
includes lifting and pushing heavy food crates. Copies of doctors'
examinations however show that Biedronka did not inform doctors that the
women would be required to lift weights. They wrote that the women would
have to work as cashiers and, under the "risk" department, they write that
the women will have to expend up to 1000 calories at work.

A number of workers from Biedronka claim that some of the areas which
Biedronka alleges to have fixed have not at all and that people are still
forced to work overtime. Again, Biedronka knows nothing about this. The
decision of the appeal court in Gdansk in favour of JM really sent a
message to workers about the poor condition of their rights in Poland and
about the miserable state of the justice system. Despite overwhelming
evidence of abuse by JM, it seems that workers still have problems getting
justice.
======================================
* Luta Social is an an anarchist journal
** FA is federation of Poland anarchists

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