On December 6, 2011, workers of the Chung Hong Electronics factory held a meeting and decided to join the Workers' Initiative. The factory is located in near Wroclaw (Poland) in the Tarnobrzeg Special Economic Zone. There has never been any trade union in the factory before, although workers think that it is the worst workplace in the whole zone. So the fact that workers got together, self-organized and are willing to fight is already a big success.
The factory is using flexible production methods, which means that working arrangements are flexible in order to reduce labor costs. Employees who have worked in the factory from the beginning say that this was not always the case. Flexible employment (what we call it "junk contracts") with workers employed by temporary agencies has intensified in the past 1,5 or 2 years. When the production speed is increased (in autumn and spring), temporary workers account for up to 50 percent of all production workers. The factory cooperates with temporary agencies like Inter Kadra, Power Men, and Work & People in order to make use of cheap labor, raise its profits, and crush solidarity among the workers.
Temporary workers are employed for a period of several days up to one month, and often their contract does not get prolonged when they return to work after sick leave or childcare leave. The "temporary status" can last up to six months. Before Christmas workers are forced to go on a "voluntary" unpaid leave for two weeks.
Most of the production workers in the factory are women, and most are very young. Those who have children leave them with their grandmothers or other relatives, as kindergartens and nursery schools either do not exist or are too expensive. Most people commute from smaller towns of the south part of Lower Silesia. The unemployment rate there ranges from 20 to 30 percent. Commuting to work takes one of two hours (in winter even longer). All together workers spend nearly 12 hours a day at work or commuting.
As long-term workers say, at the beginning working in the factory "was not so bad". Workers had access to Social Funds (among others paid holidays and gift vouchers), wages were higher, it was easier to get the performance bonus, and more employees worked together at the same workplace. They say that in general people were treated better. But working conditions started deteriorating when the employer started to justify changes with the financial crisis and when the management was changed. Currently, salaries vary from 1,500 to 1,600 Zlotys before tax [440-470 USD; 335-360 Euros] (but temporary workers get only 1,400 Zlotys before tax [410 USD; 310 Euro]) and bonuses are either not given at all or are much lower than before.
Such low wages force workers to work overtime as costs of food and accommodation are rising. The Social Fund is not paid to the workers, but every month a part of the workers' salary is deducted for that purpose. Officially the factory operates five days a week, but in fact workers have to work almost every Saturday (especially when production increases), and that day is either added to the holidays (in the future) or handled as overtime. Employees work between two and six days of overtime a month, that means in practice they often work for 16 hours (two shifts in a row). When workers take just one day off in a month, they loose the so-called „attendance bonus” of 100 Zlotys [30 USD; 22 Euro]. The work is continuously intensified as workers get more duties (because the employer wants to cut labor costs) or have to train new employees who are continuously hired and fired.
Most workers have an employment contract for a limited period, only a few hold contracts for an indefinite period (which in Poland means more protection through the Labor Law). Workers say that it often happens that when a limited contract ends and – according to the Labor Law – workers should be given an indefinite one, the worker does not get employed for a few month after which the factory rehires him or her again. As a female worker says: "You never feel safe here. One day you have work, but you never know who is the next to be fired."
For almost one month the Workers' Initiative has been active already. At the beginning there was a slow phase of meetings with strong support from other Workers' Initiative activists. We had to do our homework, that is gaining knowledge of the Labor Law and the Union Law, and now we start to get engaged seriously to change things in the plant.
About 40 workers have joined the union, and some of them are temporary workers. Currently, the bosses know only about shop stewards, the rest stays undercover in order to protect them against management repression. We have difficulties with keeping up regular contact, as the employer has prohibited meetings during working hours. Breaks and the time before work are the only occasion to meet. So far, we have sent about 10 letters to the employer, asking for the "work and wage regulations" (a statue on terms and conditions of employment and wage) and how the Social Fund functions in the plant. We also demanded the creation of an "occupational safety and health council" that could have a look at the working conditions. We also want to have a room in the factory where we can meet and an union blackboard to inform other workers about our activity. We have also asked for information on management wages so we can compare it to ours.
However, the process of getting information is tedious, especially since no one before us has ever tried that. The employer still has not responded to our letters and refuses to show us the work regulations. Such data is crucial for us, because it will allow us to introduce a collective agreement and to continue the fight for workers' rights.
WORKERS OF CHUNG HONG: ORGANIZE!
ONLY WHEN WE ACT TOGETHER ARE WE STRONGER THAN THE BOSS!