I got a job in September 2005. Before I couldn't find any job. I worked on a construction-sites, took some seasonal and temporary jobs. In the city where I live (Kostrzyn on the Oder river, western Poland) the situation on the market is tragic. There are no big factories here. We have a cosmic unemployment- around 30 per cent. But it is even worse in the south of the area - the highest unemployment in EU.
Thanks to the zone unemployment in the area has slightly declined, but the stir made around it before has turned out to be highly exaggerated. Few workplaces have been created (according to data from 2004 there was 1750 new workplaces); ICT (an Italian corporation) employs 200 people, Podravka Poland - 100, and there are plants that employ not more than 20 people. All companies have been given high tax allowances, but there is no real effect of that on the local market.
Are workers' rights are obeyed in the Zone?
I've written about it in a local newspaper- exactly about lack of trade unions in the Zone. In last 3-4 years only one trade union has been founded in ICT, but it hasn't been working actively. There are no more unions and no perspective for them to be founded. It is because most people work for determined periods, without contracts for unspecified time. At one point it was easier to organize unemployed people in order to improve situation on the market. We were able to found a committees of the unemployed in a few Polish cities (Szprotawa, Gubin, Krosno, Kostrzyn, Gorzow etc.) and made quite big protests there. It was kind of small social movement that engaged around 2 000 people. But some how it stopped to be active. In my opinion there is no point in organizing the unemployed in separate structures. I havn't a chance to work within trade union as I just havn't worked for unspecified contract a lot.
An Impel-Tom company, where you finally found a job, is working mostly for ICT, as an outsourcing company for that Italian paper-making corporation. What did you do there?
Impel-Tom delivers security and cleaning service for ICT (cleaning of machines and factories, cleaning at height etc.). I did cleaning in a group of 20 people. It was an easy job. I had a cleaning vehicle. In the papermaking factory there is a strong dust in the air and everything is white, so that you have to clean all the time. There are 40-45 people working for the Impel, but next 50 are at the disposal of the company whenever they call them (those have a contract to perform a specified task or work or a contract of mandate)
How much did you earn?
The salaries are starvation ones, slightly above minimal wage, what means clear 650 zloty (165 euro). But the company observes basic rules of employment, for instance 8 hours work day. There is no overtimes, so there is no rights abuse in this field. The wage usually was on time. The biggest problem are low wages and that is the reason why there is so fast shift of people- some give up job and next are employed immediately. Anyone who finds something better, wants to get away form Impel. Two people who worked before me, have moved to London to clean airports there.
We were promised to get a pay raise since January. But when on the day when we were given a January wage, it turned out that there is no raise, few people started to make a fuss. Workers wanted to meet someone from the management, but they rejected. We decided to call them. I was chosen, as the rest was frightened, so I called them and said that there is no promised pay rise. They answered that they have to sign a contract with ICT first, and they can talk with us after. We were told before by a foreman that a decision on pay raise had been already made and signed. Next day the foreman looked for the one who dared to call the management. That moment we came to conclusion that we have to found a trade union. So 12 of us signed declarations to join the Workers Initiative but we were unable to make one starting meeting, as we work for different shifts in different places.
How did they fire you?
I started to feel a turmoil around me, although nobody had warned me that I could be fired. They wanted to take me by surprise. When I came to work on 7th of March (that day we planned to have a meeting of all unionists), I was given a sack shortly after entering the plant. I asked for reason, but the foreman told me the he knew nothing. I went to a changing-room and I showed the paper to the people. Everybody were nervous, some get really scared. One man said that now all of us would be fired. It was difficult for me to talked to the people, there was also the foreman in the room, who kept the management's side. He told me directly: "You should ask a head whether is possible to found a trade union in that plant". That day the rest of workers who wanted to joint the union weren't allowed to enter the factory. The same with those who that day didn't work. I was given an obligatory leave during the time of dismissal, to not show up in the factory. Immidietely next person was employed instead of me. O the 8th of March I couldn't enter the factory so I called my colleagues. I met few of them outside the factory. They told me that the manager had intimidated people and told them that he had a notice for everybody already prepared.
What do you think now?
I think that some people would like to join a trade union, but the rest is intimidated. They are afraid of being fired. They have wifes, kids, financial obligations, they are afraid of being unemployed. And as I have already mention, it is difficult here to find any job, even the worse paid one.