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Struggle of Casual Construction Workers Highlights Problems in Public Sector Contracting

A group of workers who repaired public housing units and real estate owned by the Justice Ministry are organizing and fighting to get paid. The housing authority in the district of Wola in Warsaw held a public tender for the works, which was won by a small firm, which had carried out various construction and repair works in the past. The workers, who never got a written contract, were also not paid. Some of them wound up at a homeless shelter, completely broke. (Others had come from Ukraine to work and nobody knows what happened to them.) Now they joined ZSP and are fighting for their pay and for changes that will help avoid such situations in the future.

The union has been campaigning to put an end to such practices in public works. Our postulates include the direct hiring of workers on normal contracts where possible and checking the working conditions when using contractors. These ideas gained a lot of public support and the government made some steps in this direction by ammending the law on public procurement by allowing public entities to put a „social clause” in public tenders, demanding that workers have proper contracts. However, these clauses are not required and public entities can use them at their discretion.

We visited the Wola District Office, accompanied by television journalists covering the story. There we were stonewalled. A representative of the district explained that they have absolutely no legal instrument to guarantee the working conditions with the contractors – which is not true because they can put this into a public tender. He explained that the only criteria was the price. This shows that public institutions are most interested in getting work done for the least amount possible, even where they should know that this means the contractors hire people to work in illegal conditions.

We also visited the city council and demanded to know how many public tenders in Warsaw include social clauses. We presented demands that public tenders not be signed before the working conditions are verified and other postulates. The workers demanded that the city take responsibility and help the workers. As it turned out, the district did not make the last payments to the contractor and still has the money, so we suggested that they pay the workers directly. However they claim they cannot do that since they did not sign anything with the workers. The actions will continue next week and until the situation is resolved.