On March 1st : Act up, protest, strike !

Against precarization and temporary employment

In 2014, Amazon opened three distribution centers in Poland: two in the suburbs of Wrocław and one near Poznań. In all of its warehouses the company hires on average 3,200 permanent workers and a similar amount of workers on temporary work contracts. During peak times, when the work load increases, workers hired through agencies make up 2/3 of the entire crew. These workers are hired by three of the largest temporary work agencies in the world: Adecco, Manpower and Randstad. Adecco is the only agency to hire more than 750,000 workers at about 100,000 companies per year. Before the winter holiday season Adecco recruited about 8,000 workers for Amazon in Poland. According to the company’s statistics, at least 20% of them return to Amazon for each peak time.

The other agencies also recruited thousands of workers. Some of them only worked a few days in the warehouse. In the autumn, the agencies interchangeably fired and hired workers again. There were even cases in which 200 people were all fired at the same time, because the company didn’t like them. They learned about their dismissal or about their contract not being extended on the day before, and sometimes while still at work. New workers were automatically hired in their place. The largest wave of dismissals took place after the holidays, when over a few days about 2,000 people were fired from the warehouse near Poznań. More people were let go in January.

Still, that makes for considerably fewer dismissals than last year, when after the holidays the majority of agency workers were fired. The situation this year is a result of, among others, the pressure that the union has leveraged on Amazon. Agency workers also took up individual attempts at condemning the work relations at Amazon, for example: they sent letters to the media denouncing company practices, they set up a facebook page making fun of the work and employment conditions, they consciously boycotted the tempo-forcing norm system and they regularly didn’t show up for work.

The Workers’ Initiative (IP) launched a campaign against temporary employment this past November. Along with the groups that support us we organized pickets outside of agency offices and information actions at various workplaces. We addressed a demand to Amazon that workers should be hired on permanent work contracts or at least that IP should be included in deciding on the percentage of workers that can be hired on a seasonal basis.

This demand was supported by a petition signed by over 500 workers. We collected the signatures in a few days and only during one work shift. In the same time period, we entered into a collective bargain with all three agencies, demanding that they stop using contracts shorter than three months, better work conditions and higher wages for temporary workers (most of our demands were the same as the ones we presented to Amazon during the collective bargaining we entered into with the company a few months earlier). It turned out then that the Workers’ Initiative is the only union in Poland that organizes Randstad and Adecco workers and is also the only union to enter into collective bargaining with the agencies, even though they have been active in Poland since 2004.

AMAZON HIRES and instantly fires

After the largest wave of dismissals Amazon began recruiting again. Already in January, representatives of the affiliated agencies started a telephone drive to look for candidates who would replace the people fired earlier. Adecco’s advertisements encouraged people to apply for work at the warehouse offering them, among other perks, meals for 1 zloty, free transportation and….A PERMANENT WORK CONTRACT!

This sort of information makes a mockery of workers. A big rotation is the basis of Amazon’s employment politics, and the company does not hide this fact. Recruitment to Amazon takes place not only in Poznań and Wrocław, but above all in smaller towns located at a distance of even 100 km from the warehouse, where unemployment is much higher. Some workers spend 6 hours commuting to and from work each day. Most people hired at Amazon are either over 40 years old, students or under 25. Temporary workers usually receive monthly contracts, extended or not depending on needs of the user firm, the worker’s productivity, the quality of their work, frequency and the manager’s mood. Permanent and temporary workers earn the same hourly wage of 14 zloty, pre-tax. But people hired through the agencies do not get the social package that includes employee benefits, vouchers from ZFSŚ (the social services fund), medical coverage, additional insurance or training courses. Employment through agencies is regulated by the law on temporary employment that makes certain aspects of the labor law more “flexible”. Agency workers, for example, are bound by shorter periods for their notice of termination, vacations are counted differently and in the case of being fired due to the employer’s fault, they do not receive a send-off package. There is also no limit on the amount of contracts, based on which they can be hired by the same employer. Amazon is not the only company that takes advantage of this situation. H&M, for example, also hires a part of its workers through Adecco on week-long civil agreements. Meanwhile, at the German automobile parts factory MAHLE near Ostrow Wlk workers hired through agencies (also Adecco) until recently were forced to sign a new contract each work day.

We have to organize together.

In Poland most agency workers are hired in industry and warehouses. Amazon, H&M or MAHLE are only three examples among many of a-couple-thousand-worker companies that use agency services. The agencies are present in relatively new production companies, in which the structural bargaining force is very high, but the workers did not yet sufficiently organize in order to eliminate this form of hiring. A similar situation exists in Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Argentina. There is also a very large percentage of temporary workers in manufacturing in France, Belgium and Italy.

In Poland, temporary workers are also migrants, mainly from the Ukraine. They work in construction, factories located in the Special Economic Zones and in agriculture. During the first half of 2015, over 400 thousand migrants, the overwhelming majority from the Ukraine, came to work in Poland as part of the government’s temporary work program for migrants from the East. In this program, migrant workers are attached to their employers and are unable to freely move from one job to the next. They work for wages lower than those offered to locals. Temp agencies are involved not only in employing migrant workers, but also in organizing their documents to stay in Poland and their housing in worker hostels. As they are obliged to leave Poland every 6 months, temporary migrant workers are often isolated from the local workers. With few contacts between them, it is difficult to develop the basis for common struggle.

The division into permanent and temporary significantly weakens workers. It allows for increasing the pressure on everyone, including those hired permanently, with full right to stay and limits the possibilities of self-organizing. Workers function under constant pressure of losing their source of income or being deported. They also constantly have to compete with one another in order to receive another contract, which allows the company to maintain its desired productivity and to discipline the crew. Because of the rotation, the workers do not know the warehouse or each other very well, which makes it easier to rouse conflicts among them.

It is also more difficult to build unity among workers who are employed by different companies based on slightly differing provisions and who often have diverse problems and demands. Yet solidarity between permanent, agency and migrant workers is necessary in order to effectively fight for better work and pay conditions. Protests organized on shop floors only by permanent workers can easily be pacified if they are not met with support from the temporary and migrant part of the crew. The same is true in reverse.

Further, temporary employment is a form of intensified exploitation, which breaks the strength of all workers. That is why the demand for direct employment as well as the resistance against the agencies concerns us all: both those hired through agencies and those with permanent contracts, migrants, the unions, solidarity groups and all organizations that struggle against exploitation.

On the 1st of March, as part of the international days against borders and precarization, the Workers’ Initiative will organize actions at the offices of temporary work agencies demanding direct employment for all workers. We should all have the same wages, the same rights and the same contracts. If that will happen is not only up to the managers. If we act together, we can gain say on the organization of our work. At Volkswagen in Poznań, the workers’ resistance led to a situation, in which the number of people hired through the agencies keeps falling and the majority of workers must be hired directly. Amazon and other companies should have to negotiate with the workers on the amount of people hired through the agencies, while the greatest possible number of us should have permanent contracts.

On this day we also plan on informing agency workers about the possibilities of resistance and about organizing together. “Temporary” does not mean “submissive”!

Workers’ Initiative, Poland