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(en) Slovakia, priama akcia: How we dealt with the problems at work: Disputes of Direct Action 2015-2019 part II. (2/4) [machine translation]

Date Thu, 7 May 2020 08:44:51 +0300

WHAT HAS DISPUTED THE DISPUTE AND LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE ---- Every dispute is a source of instruction and improvement. We always try to talk about them and write about them in public, so that they benefit not only us but also other workers. ---- Deeper understanding of the context ---- We stated at the beginning that the dispute with OZ DM was our first collective dispute. However, this was far from the first problem in the workplace that we had to deal with. Thanks to the lessons learned from previous cases, for example, we had a pretty good idea of the issue of reputational damage. During the dispute, however, we also learned more about topics related to working with personal data, liability for damage, the possibility of using commercial and civil law in disputes or the issue of dependent work.

Psychological aspects of combat

Experiencing a dispute, leading it and winning it brings such a range of impressions and feelings that it cannot be compared to anything we have experienced so far. We have seen that we can succeed and help ourselves and other workers. And that means a lot, because that is one of the basic points of our activity.

We came out of the dispute with strengthened self-confidence. We have proven that our efforts and organization bring tangible results, and therefore it makes sense. It is one thing to read about other people's successes in disputes, but it is quite another to win the dispute ourselves - on our own and thanks to the solidarity of others. We now know that what we are doing is doing well, and we are very likely to succeed.

However, the fight with it also brings other psychological aspects. Individual and collective responsibility for the success of a dispute can easily cause unpleasant states, worries, feelings of anxiety and insecurity, sleep problems, etc.

In the long run, they are many times outweighed by the positive effects, but it must be borne in mind that even if one enjoys a lot of fun during the fight, organizing the fight alone is not fun.

How best to handle disputes from a psychological point of view? Considering our other struggles, we think a lot depends on the number of active people. The more people share the tasks and take responsibility for completing them, the better the dispute can be handled emotionally and psychologically.

Evaluation and improvements

Closing a dispute does not mean closing the topic. The last phase is always evaluation. All members of the union are critical of various aspects of the struggle and reflect on what worked and what did not. Based on this, we come up with improvements to the following disputes and tips for other militant workers willing to stand up for their demands.

An example of this dispute is the organization of an email campaign. It turned out that it made no sense for sending protest e-mails or faxes to be "shot" on the first day after the call was published. We have therefore devised a tactic for the gradual dissemination of published information on the dispute, thus ensuring regular pressure for almost two weeks. In the following disputes, we further improved this procedure and extended the period even further.

However, evaluations can also be useful as a basis for theoretical and practical texts. The main ideas of this brochure are also based on the evaluations we wrote after the disputes.


Most of the people who supported Michal in handing over the letter or handing out the leaflet at the Christmas markets were not from the Direct Action. Neither did Nicholas and the Devil;) It was the same in the disputes that followed. Why do we mention it? We want to point out that even though there is a reluctance in society to organize and systematically engage in any activity, it is possible to succeed even if the organization has people around it who are willing to do the right thing.

This condition is not our goal, but we understand its causes. However, we are constantly trying to prove in practice that it makes sense to engage in e-mail campaigns, submit letters of request and participate in pickets.

and other forms of direct action against companies. And organize. It really works. And everything is easier to prepare when people are part of the organization.

Grow a little differently

We also mentioned the issue of membership because people are often interested in whether workers join a union after a dispute. This has not happened to us yet, but in most cases they continue to support our union and get involved in further disputes. For example, Michal later willingly passed on his experiences from the police and the various stages of the dispute to other people with whom we had disputes, and encouraged them. Apparently it also mattered that he knew us even before the dispute and our thoughts are close to him. We are currently pleased with the situation where people continue to support our union and disputes. We have never been an organization focused on recruiting new members, and it is not a measure of success for us.

"I'm nothing, I'm a musician" or the real potential
(not only) of the music scene

Problem-solving at work is not an engaging topic and gaining wider support in disputes is always a challenge. Thanks to social networks, the music scene has great potential to spread information about disputes and thus contribute to solving problems in the workplace. In Michal's case, people from the scene sent a lot of protest e-mails, which helped a lot. However, they got involved mainly because they knew Michal personally.

However, everyone has acquaintances, and it is always important in disputes that people we know address other people in their neighborhood. It is one thing to spread information among hundreds or thousands of people on social networks, and it is another to contact them directly to send a protest e-mail or come to a protest (and possibly to reach other people around them who will do the same).

The power of organization

Our strength lies in the tactics of direct action and solidarity between workers. We are responsible and determined to fight for ourselves and our workers until we win.

In communication with bosses, we are patient, inventive and unyielding. By organizing and winning disputes, we leave them a clear message that they need to think carefully about whether they want to continue their practices and feel how we affect their business or reputation.

Most of the time, they rely on the fact that once they have picked up the workers once, they will get over it again. However, they usually do not count on the possibility of being organized. And not at all that they will have to face direct actions.

From the position of the union, we give a clear signal to workers and bosses that when a person decides to respond and resolve a dispute in the workplace with the help of the organization, direct action can achieve theirs, relatively quickly (compared to litigation).

In such a setting and with experience from Michal's dispute, we received a request for support from Martin in less than two months.

Dispute over unpaid wages
with CATO Agency

Martin worked for CATO Agency from July 2015 to March 2016 as a documentary for animal feed of the Royal Canin company in two branches of the building and garden material store in Bratislava. Since November 2015, he has also worked as a promoter. Although he received the first payments on time and in accordance with the provisions of the employment contract (and the Labor Code), the others were already regularly late. Although he was aware that the company was committing an illegal act, he did not know what to do in such a situation, so he accepted that he would wait for the money. In the end, they always came. Until...


Martin wrote to us in mid-March 2016, when he learned that the manager of CATO Agency had accused him of causing damage in the amount of more than € 1,500. Representatives of both companies allegedly met in two weeks, the amount suddenly increased to € 3,000 and the solution was: Martin will do it for free in April and May under the supervision of a Royal Canin representative and they will be even. Of course, he was to say goodbye to the money for the already done February and March as well.

Martin immediately told the head of the CATO Agency that he would think about it and get in touch. At a personal meeting, we agreed that the boss's proposal for a solution is absurd and not even in accordance with the law. We also accepted the accusation of causing damage, which we concluded as unfounded. We explained to Martin that he had to be active in a possible dispute, and then we summarized what we needed to find out so that we could assess how the wages owed for February and March could be obtained. We decided we needed more information, so Martin told his boss that he needed some more time. He also let her know that if he wanted anything from him, he would decide when to answer her.


At the next meeting with Martin on March 19, we clarified the requirements and discussed concrete steps. Martin was interested in entering into a dispute, so we agreed that he would try to formulate the wording of a letter, which we would hand over to the boss together at the beginning of May at the address of the company's headquarters in Košice. For inspiration, we provided him with the wording used in the dispute with OZ DM. We took care of the coordination of the event in Košice. Martin prepared a letter of request and sent it to the address provided by CATO Agency on the website. When the letter came back to him, he compared the address on the web with the one in the business register and found that they were different.

Meanwhile, one of our members started asking activists from Košice if they would come to support Martin during the handover.

A dispute that was almost non-existent

However, the entry into the dispute was not entirely smooth. Martin paused and spoke again only five days before the scheduled handover of the letter in Košice. We explained to him that if we were to come to a dispute, we expected a more responsible approach on his part and compliance with the agreements and tasks from the meetings.

Martina was sorry for this situation and suggested that we end the cooperation and not go to dispute. However, we still felt that the problem was more technical and perhaps we should not rely only on communication over the Internet, which did not work reliably. In addition, we would be sorry if we allowed the company to deal with him in this way. So we suggested an alternative form of communication to him and asked if he would still change his mind about the dispute. It turned out that the problem was really in communication, on which we probably didn't agree the best at the beginning. So Martin finally decided to join the dispute.

We considered sending the original undelivered letter to the new address, but in the end we decided that we would not take any considerations into the boss and prepare a letter of request, which we would pass on to her signed by our association. There was no reason to further delay entering into a dispute with a company that allowed itself to blackmail a worker to work for free.

We agreed on a meeting on May 1 in Košice, from where we were to go to the boss in a new neighborhood with family houses on the outskirts of Košice. We have already examined and photographed the place so that we know where we are going and what awaits us there. This made it easier for us to figure out how to proceed.

May Day in the spirit of the struggle of the workers

The plan to hand over the letter symbolically on May 1 was a pleasant coincidence. On that day, in Košice, we presented the activities of our association and the previous dispute with OZ DM at the May Day event organized by Košice activists from Food Not Bombs and CLUB. We combined the useful with the useful and before the presentation, Martin, with the support of ten other people, chose the headquarters and at the same time the home address of the boss and her husband, ie the managers of the CATO Agency.

We didn't catch anyone at home, so Martin left the letter in the mailbox and we made a photo and video recording of the whole event, similarly to the case of OZ DM.

We are preparing

The boss was given seven days to pay the illegally withheld salary. So far, we have met with Martin again and prepared a plan for publishing the first two articles on the dispute on our website and a schedule of events for May and June. We also agreed on the date of the next meeting. The publication of the article on entering the dispute was again published on a symbolic date - Friday the 13th.

Uncertainties about the amount owed

Since the boss did not pay the money owed, we published an article. Almost immediately after its publication, Martin received a lawyer. In the letter, Martin asked for payment of € 350 for February and € 35 for March. The lawyer mentioned € 390 in February on the phone. Then the boss called Martin, who claimed that all the money was paid out, which was not true.

Martin didn't like the other party operating with different amounts, so he checked his calculations again. In addition, the boss received a breakdown of hours worked for each month with alleged payment dates. The line according to which she paid Martin money for the hours worked in March already in February, certainly did not inspire a lot of confidence in her accounting ...

After a thorough inspection, it turned out that the amounts are in fact a little different. The problem was due to the late payment of wages and ambiguities in the amounts for individual months. In February, it was not € 350 or € 390 (which was in fact the delayed payment for December 2015 and January 2016 paid until the end of February 2016), but € 155. So we sent the boss a new calculation of the outstanding salary and alerted her to the errors. She did not respond to our repairs. She only wrote to Martin that if she has any ambiguities regarding wages, she should deal with them and not through our union.

After this clarification of the facts, we also corrected the amount due on the web as part of the correctness. The dispute continued.

Divide and rule

But we needed to solve one more thing. Even though my boss and I had been communicating from our address since the beginning of the dispute, she always answered only to Martin. She apparently wanted to make it clear that she did not accept our participation in the dispute. The problem, however, was that Martin tended to respond to her messages from himself. We were not surprised. Even during the dispute with OZ DM, we found ourselves in a similar situation several times. Fortunately, in both cases, we clarified it relatively quickly and rationally, and we communicated with the other party only from the organizational e-mail.

The point is that from the moment we enter into a dispute as a union, the contact point becomes the union and not the individual. The disadvantage for a person in dispute is to communicate from a personal address or telephone. The other side thus has a greater chance of disrupting our common approach, which could lead to ill-considered, hasty and short-circuit reactions. The result could be isolation and a return to the situation as it was in the beginning, when a man with his problem stands alone against his bosses.

We will not leave peace

On May 24, we prepared the publication of the second article, which was a call for support for Martin in the dispute (the English version also went out in a week).

It included a sample protest email and the opportunity to express their views on the company's practices using an online form:

I hereby disagree with the fact that you did not pay your employee Martin a salary of 190 € for the work done. I expect you to act responsibly and pay this amount out quickly. Otherwise, I will inform other people about your company's practices.

Let me also express my wonder at your actions. Failure to pay wages is not only a criminal offense, but also a morally wrongdoing. I believe that the amount of 190 € is not liquidation for your company. On the contrary, for Martin as a student it is a significant amount and in addition money for the work done, to which he is entitled under the contract with CATO Agency sro

I express my support for Martin and the campaign aimed at paying out the wages owed. If necessary, I will join this campaign in more than just email.

We also invited people in Košice and the surrounding area to contact us if they want to support Martin in other ways as well, as we planned other events in the city.

The article has appeared on several websites and Facebook pages. We also contacted organizations from the International Workers' Association (MAP) and several of us supported us. Thanks to this, the boss received at least one protest e-mail a day until June 7 (a total of just over 60 e-mails came, of which about half were from abroad).

The boss did not give up and a few hours after the publication of the article, there were two reactions in the world. The first went to Martin's supporters. Having allowed themselves to send her a protest e-mail, she threatened that if they disclosed false information, they would commit the crime of damaging the good name and reputation of the legal entity (and, of course, the company will have to take legal action ... for sent an e-mail ...). At the same time, there were no false information in our articles, and we already knew quite well about the issue of reputational damage from the past and from the dispute with OZ DM. So we basically just smiled. We added a note to the article that if people get a response from the CATO Agency, they can send it to us so we can see if everyone is writing the same nonsense (and so that we can respond to it if necessary).

The second reaction went to Martin. He received an e-mail in which there was not a word about the wage owed. The boss also wanted to scare him and returned to the alleged damage. She even forwarded the communication with Royal Canin (in which the amount of damage was different - not € 1,500 or € 3,000, but € 1,300 with VAT). In addition, she began to accuse him of non-compliance with the agreed attendance. Martin immediately attached his explanations. Some of her information was completely untrue, others torn from the context and distorted. However, we were only interested in the payment of the wage due. Namely, it is not done in such a way that the company does not simply pay the employee a wage on the basis of an accusation of causing damage. If the employee does not admit the damage, the case is decided by a court, which the company threatened, but knew well that it would not succeed. In addition, the law specifies

We contact the company's partners

We met with Martin again to agree on the next step, in which we wanted to use previously unpublished information about the company's practices. We did not plan to give peace in the coming weeks either. On the contrary, we wanted to tighten up. We found out that the boss is responsible for PR and marketing of the June Art Film Fest in Košice. At the end of May, we started contacting the festival organizers to comment on the cooperation with a person who does not pay wages.

The boss's reaction came the same day. However, she only forwarded the last e-mail to Martin, adding that she was asking him to contact someone from our association, because the matter was allegedly being referred to a lawyer. This absurd logic amused us again. Two days later, he sent an e-mail to another partner of the festival, and then to another and another ...

Direct action at the fashion show

In addition, we have agreed to organize a protest during the Art Film Fest costume show, which took place on June 1. Martin was also supposed to take part in the event, but unfortunately, at the last minute he had work responsibilities and he could not travel to Košice. It wasn't an ideal situation, but we decided to go for it anyway.

The tour took place in the catchy hotel Jasmín. Košice activists came in front of the hotel with a leaflet about the dispute and talked to the visitors of the event, advertising partners and the media about the actions of the person responsible for the PR festival. The remaining leaflets ended up behind the car wipers in the parking lot next to the hotel.

Leaflet text:

PR and marketing of Art Film Fest in the hands of a person in debt

Yes, there are still many entrepreneurs in Slovakia who refuse to pay wages. Among these is the company CATO Agency sro, whose managing director Mgr. Veronika Šmihulová Kašpar is also responsible for PR and marketing of Art Film Fest.

This leaflet is not directed against the Art Film Fest. However, we think that when it comes to non-payment of wages, it is never right to remain silent. We firmly believe that you also agree with this idea as people who appreciate art, which has always been a means of pointing out social ills.

What is it about?

Mgr. Šmihulová Kašpar unlawfully refuses to pay Martin a salary of € 190 for the work he did for CATO Agency sro in February and March 2016. This obligation follows from the Agreement on temporary work of students concluded on July 16, 2015, which states: "The salary is payable in arrears for a monthly period, no later than the end of the following calendar month pursuant to Section 129 of the Labor Code. "

However, Martin still does not have his money. We believe that the amount of 190 € cannot be liquidation for any company, but for Martin as a student it is a considerable amount of money, in addition for the work done and in accordance with the concluded contract.

Sadly, on the day of the press conference and the show, we must point out such a serious problem. However, we ask ourselves the question, where is the guarantee that Mgr. Šmihulová Kašpar will not act illegally in her other activities as well, as in the case of Martin she is not acting yet and the money remains unpaid?

We are sorry that we have to address you as a result of the situation, and we are also sorry that Mgr. Through her actions, Šmihulová Kašpar gets not only herself but also Art Film Fest into an unenviable situation. However, we are convinced that work is paid for, and if not, it should always be pointed out, although it is possible that in this case it may not work well for PR and marketing of Art Film Fest.

This leaflet was created as an expression of support for Martin in the hope that the company CATO Agency sro will finally approach the matter responsibly and pay the outstanding salary.

Keep your fingers crossed for us to keep the dispute as short as possible. If you don't even like what's going on, please support Martin. We also recommend contacting CATO Agency sro or directly Mgr. Šmihulová Kašpar. You can find our opinion on the website www.priamaakcia.sk. If you have further questions, we will be happy to answer them at info@priamaakcia.sk.

And suddenly the money was found

We no longer had to implement other planned activities. Exactly one week after the show, Martin received € 175 in his account. We agreed to write to the boss that it was not the whole amount. Martin did not want to pay for a taxi (€ 5), although she had promised it to him before, as well as the two hours (€ 10) he worked on the Royal Canin promotion (the request to stay at the event two hours longer came on the spot from the responsible representative this company). So we sent an e-mail to the boss, in which we wrote down these items, and we were curious about his position.

The day came a response, but there was no clear answer to our e-mail regarding the remaining € 15, so we were reminded again. Only then did the boss make her clear. She told us sadly that our union did not consider Martin's representative and would only contact him in the matter. There was also the obligatory threat of legal action.

She told Martin that in the case of a taxi, she was requesting the original proof of payment (a scan sent to him was not enough) and that she would simply not pay for the two extra hours worked, because she never asked him for anything like that. (It would be quite interesting to see the accounting between CATO Agency and Royal Canin and the way in which these two hours were accounted for ...).

Martin said that it was not worth stretching € 15 with her. We respected his decision, and we considered the dispute to be settled.

CATO Agency practice warning

In an article we published after the dispute, we summarized the ambiguities regarding CATO Agency's practices to warn people who would like to work for this company in the future:

Late payment of wages
The company paid payments after the deadline regulated by Section 129 of the Labor Code.

Non-payment of wages
This was the cause of Martin's dispute. In addition, the boss first lied that she had paid for everything. We are convinced that Martin received his salary only thanks to our campaign.

Records of hours worked
The company had trouble providing a complete record. However, Martin kept good records of e-mails and SMS and thanks to that he was able to more easily question the records provided by the boss.

Contract in violation of legal requirements
The agreement on the part-time work of the students did not properly specify the scope of work or the place of work. There were also discrepancies in the dates on the contract, which the boss probably noticed later. Martina asked him to sign a document that would partially address this. We experienced a similar attempt in the previous dispute. Who knows why anyone even tries such transparent tricks ...

Is CATO Agency sro an employment agency?
The company has the name "agency" (agency), but according to the Commercial Register, it had nothing in the subject of activity that would entitle it to mediate work. Nevertheless, Martin worked for another company (Royal Canin) on the premises of a third company (in shops with building and garden materials) and performed the work not only on the basis of instructions from the manager of CATO Agency, but also a representative of Royal Canin.

In the article, we also drew the attention of students to caution when signing contracts and performing work for various companies, and referred to our freely available publication on part-time work. Are you going to a part-time job? Experiences and tips on how not to get swept away.

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