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(en) Poland, Employee Initiative: Solidarity with those dismissed from the Pinchuk Art Center (Ukraine) [machine translation]

Date Wed, 18 Mar 2020 09:34:52 +0200

Warsaw OZZ IP committees from the cultural sector show solidarity with dismissed trade unionists from PinchukArtCentre (March 2020) ---- The OZZ "Employee Initiative" committees operating at Warsaw's cultural institutions express solidarity with former PinchukArtCentre employees and employees who were dismissed for establishing a trade union. Enough repression for trade union activities! ---- Below we publish the content of the Pinchuk Art Centre employees statement: ---- We are former employees of PinchukArtCentre - one of the largest centers of contemporary art in Eastern and Central Europe. With this letter we appeal to all artists, curators, art managers, museum employees, but also to other employees working in the field of art for solidarity and support.

We were released 30 guides and mediators shortly after the union was formed. This was done after a series of threats, without any explanations or notifications. We believe that the activity of our trade union has become the reason for our dismissal.

PinchukArtCentre is the most popular art center in Ukraine (around 2,000 people visit it every day). Over the past 14 years, he has presented to the Ukrainian audience works of contemporary artists such as: Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, Marina Abramovic, Mauricio Catellan, Ai Weiwei, Luc Tuymans, Olafur Eliasson, Rachel Whiteread, Jan Fabre and others. The institution regularly prepares its own pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Her contribution to the development of Ukrainian art is well known both at home and abroad.
Despite the fact that the institution has a good reputation in the world of art, we, as employees, still face violations of our rights. We could not benefit from sick leave and the trial period lasted over 6 months. The content of the contract in no way corresponded to the actual working conditions, some of us worked black, while all employees were forced to provide personal information to the Recruitment Office without justification.

We achieved success during the first month of the union's operation. We have been given the opportunity to take advantage of sick leave and paid leave. These rights, guaranteed in accordance with labor law, have never been respected before. We were forced to come to work even when we were sick, otherwise we were threatened with dismissal.

However, some managers were hostile to the changes we proposed. When we asked the administration to hire our underage black colleague Nikita Bunin, managers tried to fire him. In addition, he was forbidden to enter the PinchukArtCentre building. It wasn't until the Trade Union announced its intention to contact the authorities that our colleague was officially employed. So we recognized the attempt to release Nikita as an act of intimidation.

After this situation, we were repeatedly threatened with dismissals, and demanded to submit a list of trade union members. One of the managers has repeatedly and obtrusively carried out an audit of the work of Ms Anastasia Bondarenko. In addition, the administration attempted to ban access to the building for her and another union member, Maria Svyryda.

Due to threats of mass layoffs, we decided to start collective negotiations. We expected that the signing of a collective agreement would guarantee respect for mutual rights and obligations. However, for two months the administration ignored our interests, and at that time our employment contracts expired.

Usually, when changing the exhibition, we were preparing to work on the next exhibition. We met with artists, curators, managers and collected information on works of art. However, during the last exposure change that took place in January 2020, we didn't receive any messages from our managers. Any attempt to contact them was ignored. Our employment contracts have not been extended. 30 guides and mediators were released without any notification or explanation. Some of us have worked at PinchukArtCentre for over 2 years.

The mediation practice that has existed at PinchukArtCentre for 7 years has been abolished. On the opening day of the new exhibition, mass dismissals of mediators were explained to journalists as the need for "experimenting with forms of interaction." However, it is obvious to us that we have been punished for trade union activities.

When the situation was made public, PinchukArtCentre attempted to present his position in an open letter. The administration declared its intention to replace mediators with "innovative measures", i.e. "audioguides" as an addition to guided tours. It was said that such a decision was made in September 2019. Such argumentation is beyond criticism. The letter does not justify why all the guides and mediators were dismissed. In addition, in November and December 2019 PinchukArtCentre hired 3 new guides (Ksenia Pereplotczykowa, Sofia Akhmed, Kostia Gumienna) who were selected after a complicated examination process. During the interview they were informed that their activities must be of a long-term nature. Besides, it's suspicious

The open letter from PinchukArtCentre was written in a humiliating way. We were accused of lying. Mass dismissal was explained by the incompetence of former employees. After a media message, some of PinchukArtCentre's current employees and his supporters, including artists, publicly laughed at the dismissed guides and mediators.
Shortly after the publication of the letter, the two artists nominated for the PinchukArtCentre Award, whose works are exhibited at the current exhibition, gave up their participation in the artistic competition. In this way, they expressed solidarity with all dismissed guides and mediators. We are very grateful to Pawel Grazhdan and Valentina Pietrova for their support!

We treat the PinchukArtCentre open letter as an attempt to discredit our former employees in order to divert attention from systematic violation of employee rights. We are concerned about the humiliating tone of this letter and the act of public ridicule by some current PinchukArtCentre employees. We treat this as an insult to former mediators and guides.

During the conflict, we received a lot of messages from former mediators telling their own stories of unethical treatment while working at PinchukArtCentre. We are grateful for your trust and support! We came to the conclusion that we were only a link in the chain of permanent history of unethical approach to employees. This story must end.

On behalf of all former PinchukArtCentre employees who signed this letter, we suggest a way to resolve the conflict. The conditions are as follows:

1. PinchukArtCentre apologizes to dismissed mediators and guides for violating employee rights, acts of intimidation, public allegations of lies and public discrediting;

2. PinchukArtCentre restores the practice of mediation through public dialogue with artists, curators, trade union representatives, former mediators and guides, media, etc. The priority in employment should be given primarily to mediators who have been dismissed;

3. PinchukArtCentre creates the conditions for the functioning of the trade union and signs the Collective Agreement with employees.

Until these terms and conditions are met, we call on artists, curators, teachers and visitors to boycott PinchukArtCentre.

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