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Hospital Workers Continue Protests in the Capital

On July 3, workers from the Belchatow hospital travelled to Warsaw to protest the systematic problems which have led to their situation and to try to get intervention on their behalf. The women have been protesting and occupying the hospital for two months since the time about 60 workers found themselves without a job.

Actions took place at the Ministry of Health, the Labour Ministry and the Parliament. At each stop the workers spoke with government representatives, demanding action in their case and changes in the adverse laws and policies which have caused their situation.

The women had previously been employed directly through the hospital but their jobs were outsourced. For most workers in the health services, outsourcing of a job begins a nightmare of precarity and worsening work conditions.

According to the law, if the jobs are outsourced, the workers should be transferred to the new service provider automatically, with no change in the working conditions, but companies often find ways to get around this. Sometimes they just ignore the law as there seem to be little consequences for violating workers´ rights in Poland.

At first there were about 160 workers outsourced and they were transferred and given normal work contracts. But when the hospital, after a few months,awarded a new contract, the new company only took part of the old workers, hiring some new ones as well. In theory, all the workers should have been transferred. In reality, companies try to go around their obligations to cut staff and make the remaining people work harder. They are convinced that people cannot fight back and that they will never be held accountable for their actions.

The workers also fell into a legal black hole, since the Unemployment Office will not register them as unemployed until the old employer terminates the contract. But the firm will not do that because it maintains that it transferred the employees according to the law. So they cannot receive unemployment benefits or be insured.

Since protests started, a new public tender was held and the service provider will be changed again. ZSP has been pressuring the hospital to hire the workers directly but also, if the contract is given to another firm, to force them to transfer employees, take back the old workers and employ everybody on work contracts, not trash contracts.

For information on trash contracts, some firms are providing services to hospitals and paying workers a subminimum wage. Cleaners from Olkusz earn only 4 zloties per hour (less than 1 euro) whereas the minimum wage is over 10. They are now working 250-270 hours per month to take home the same money they would earn if they were legally employed, earning the minimum wage.

The workers from Belchatow, many of whom had been working in the hospital for decades, refuse to work on such conditions, which are a gross violation of workers' rights. The government has been turning a blind eye to such practices which are clearly in violation of the Labour Code and in many state offices and state-funded institutions, budget cuts are being ruthlessly carried out against the poorest category of worker, whose jobs are being outsourced and whose incomes are slashed. ZSP has been campaigning against awarding public tenders to companies which violate workers' rights. In Warsaw, several public institutions have resigned from at least one of the worst companies.

Now it looks as if a new company has been chosen and both the company and the hospital director have promised to give preference to the protesting workers. But they are yet to receive any concrete offer. The women stress that they will not work on worse conditions, since minimum wage is already the worst condition one should have. ZSP is maintaining pressure on all parties involved and stresses that the problem will not be resolved if people are continually transferred from one company to the next with no guarantees. Direct employment is a much better option.

At the Ministry of Health in Warsaw, workers were met by representatives of the Ministry who had taken the time to acquaint themselves with the situation and at least acted very polite and concerned to the workers. Postulates were sent to the Ministry. We heavily criticized the continued tendency towards outsourcing, which is a long-term strategy in the neo-liberal restructuring of health care, a service which is extremely underfunded in Poland.

Workers went into the Ministry of Labour, where they demanded intervention in getting them unemployment benefits. It turns out that the people in the Ministry of Labour are less well informed than at the Ministry of Health and despite various promises made earlier by politicians, nobody there is on top of the situation. So we warn all workers never to believe in the promises of politicians because most of them are just lies to get people to stop protesting. Constant pressure and action is needed to force them to do anything in the interests of workers and not in the interests of capitalists' pockets.

Finally, a protest was held at the Parliament where we demanded changes in the laws which leave such workers in a black hole where they are not recognized as unemployed. A politician from Belchatow came and spoke for a long time, promising to support the women on the local level. However we are aware that the main interest of some local politicians is to make black PR for the political cliques that are in charge of the hospital.

The union will now wait a few days to see if anything happens and is planning more actions.

On a much brighter note, we are please to inform that at the same hospital, the Director was forced to take another comrade back to work. He had been fired last year after the Director made false accusations. Since that time he has been fighting to clear his name and get his job back, claiming that he was really fired for being a union activist. It was proven in court that the accusations the Director made were false. At the same time, cases were pending for reinstatement and anti-discrimination. The Director decided to come to agreement and reinstate the worker, paying one year's salary as compensation.

This is a good result considering the outrageous anti-union tendencies in recent court judgments where most people are not reinstated and some unionists who have won unfair dismissal were only granted a single payment of one month's salary at minimum wage – or 400 euros - regardless of the amount of time they were out of work. In comparison to this, we can easily say that this victory has been the best one we know of this year and for some while.

All the time this comrade and the others from the hospital have been supporting each other.

Although the situation of the cleaners and meal servers in struggle is much more difficult and, in fact, there is no precedent of such workers being re-hired, the actions continue in the hope of another victory at the hospital.