Victory of Priama akcia union in conflict with NGO Divé maky concerning unpaid remuneration
In the first half of November 2015, we started a conflict with the NGO Divé maky concerning unpaid remuneration for their former worker Michal, who approached us and asked for help. After more than two months we have good news – Michal received the whole amount of 950 € to his account on the 22nd January 2016. Despite the fact that Divé maky used threats, defamation and intimidation against us and Michal during the whole conflict, it did not help them. The tactics of protests and direct actions proved to be effective. We want to thank everyone who spread the information about the conflict and expressed their support for Michal.
Reason of the conflict – unpaid remuneration
Civic association Divé maky (DM) is a charity NGO which helps talented Roma youth. It’s financed by grants and donations from governmental institutions, businesses, and individuals.
Their former worker Michal R. decided to leave the organization on 31st July 2015. At the end of July 2015, he received a document called Agreement on Contract Termination signed by the administrator of DM Barbora Kohútiková. This document states that neither of the parties has any unfulfilled financial or other claims, nor will they raise any in the future, the exception being the payment of the remuneration for Michal's last month of work. However, the administrator refused to pay it.
THE ACTIONS OF PRIAMA AKCIA
1. Collective delivery of the letter with the demand to pay
Unpaid work is often overlooked in Slovakia. Mostly it’s the cases in the private sector or the frauds of temporary work agencies that are publicized in the media. The case of DM shows that this problem occurs in the third sector as well.
Michal refused to accept that he will never see his money and contacted Priama akcia. On 28th October 2015 we, together with Michal, delivered a letter to the administrator of DM, Barbora Kohutikova, with one simple demand – pay the money in 14 days. Since this demand, which she was contractually obliged to fulfill already in August, was not met, we started an open conflict.
2. Open conflict – protests with international participation and reaction to lawyer’s threats
On Friday 13th November 2015 we published the info that Priama akcia started a conflict with DM. Consequently, the administrator gave the power of attorney in this conflict to the lawyer JUDr. Tomáš Pintér who started to intimidate us with legal actions for publicizing the truth about the situation.
Our first public action was a call to protest the practices of DM. We created an email form on our website which people could use to send protest letters to DM. It was also translated into English and about 150 protest e-mails (and also a couple of faxes) were sent to DM, mostly from Slovakia, but also from 17 other countries (Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Croatia, Canada, Germany, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA), 10 of which being member groups of the International Workers Association (IWA). Information about the conflict was also spread on other websites and Facebook (AF, Libcom, SOL!S) and support was received from bands (OiOiPiratoi, PKOTG, Rozpor, Železná Kolóna and probably others that we do not know of). This simple and time-efficient form of support was an important part of the campaign. Representatives of DM were unnerved by the emails that served their purpose and became one of the factors that forced DM to pay the money.
3. Santa Claus and Devil join in
Another action in Michal’s support was undertaken by Santa Claus and the Devil (in Czech and Slovak folklore Santa Claus or St. Nicolaus along with the devil distribute gifts of sweets and candy to good kids and coal to bad kids on the night of 5th or 6th December). On 6th December 2015, they left coal and a poem, expressing their opinion on the behavior of DM outside their office.
4. Letters to partners who finance Divé maky asking them to take a stand
From the beginning of December, people and organizations who support the NGO directly (often financially) or indirectly, were informed about the practices of DM.
The reaction of the NGO was peculiar. They made sure that the internet was flooded with insults and threats aimed at Michal. Apart from that, their lawyer absolutely unprofessionally misused e-mail addresses of people who expressed their support for Michal. This way he himself damaged the image of DM as a respectable charity. The supporters of the camping could see firsthand, who we were dealing with.
5. Informing the public about the NGO’s practices at Christmas Markets in Bratislava
On Friday 18th December 2015, we went to inform about the practices of DM to a Christmas event that they organized in Bratislava where we distributed flyers about the conflict.
6. Attempt of the IWA Secretariat to meet with Divé maky
Representatives of the International Workers Association were deeply interested in the conflict. Already in November 2015, in her email to DM, the General Secretary of the IWA pointed out the peculiar practices of DM but received no answer. At the end of December, members of the Secretariat met with members of Priama akcia and decided to meet with the administrator of DM but the office was closed. They left their message in the mailbox and on the door and expressed their opinion in an interview http://www.priamaakcia.sk/The-IWA-Secretariat-enquired-about-practices-of-NGO-Dive-maky-in-Bratislava-interview.html.
7. Meeting with a member of the NGO governing board
In mid-January Michal was contacted by Martin Krajčí, a member of the governing board of DM who is also the organization’s lawyer. According to him, DM were willing to pay the money but only under conditions which Michal could not accept because they were contradictory to the commitments stemming from the Agreement on Contract Termination. Thus, the conflict continued.
8. Next phase of the campaign and the payment of money
Shortly before the next phase of the campaign was launched, Michal received information from the organization's administrator that the money will be paid. It happened on the 22nd January 2016, almost three months after the campaign’s start. We confirmed the transfer but we also warned DM that if they try to breach any part of the Agreement on Contract Termination again, we would be prepared to immediately enter a new conflict and undertake all the necessary public, media and legal steps.
MICHAL’S VIEW ON THE CONFLICT
When Michal asked Priama akcia for help he knew that we only take part in conflicts under the condition that the worker concerned takes an active role in solving the problem. We were very happy that Michal took this condition very seriously. He was very active and responsible the whole time and after the conflict ended, he gladly shared his view on the struggle that we led together.
What did this conflict teach you? What experiences will you take into your further life?
It gave me a lot. It confirmed what I believed in already, that collective action against the bosses is successful when it is done sensibly and responsibly. I’m happy that we made it. I think that without the involvement of Priama akcia, or a similar campaign taking place, I would not have gotten my money, least of all the full amount. This conflict demonstrated it clearly and simply. It taught me that it is always better to handle such activities collectively than alone.
What was the most important thing in the conflict for you?
I perceive the support from the IWA very positively, as it got involved not only by sending emails and faxes. The members of the IWA Secretariat personally visited the office of DM, even if they didn’t meet anyone there in the end. I also think that by offering me possible financial support they left an impression on DM that this is a serious thing. This support calmed me down and gave me the confidence to persevere.
One of the most important things, which really mattered, was the support in the form of protest emails. I would like to thank everyone who got involved in the campaign, either by sending emails, expressing their support or actively helping. I really appreciate this support and it really helped during the conflict.
What advice would you offer to someone with a similar problem?
It’s important to be calm and not to let the boss break you. Even if it’s someone you know for a longer time and they play on your feelings. Don’t back down, don’t react to their incentives and just stick to your plan. Don’t be afraid of accusations or intimidation, because the collective will support you.
In the end we would like to thank everyone who supported Michal and didn’t stop even after the defamatory campaign of Divé maky. We invite all the workers who have problems in their job and want to actively solve them to contact us: http://www.priamaakcia.sk/kategoria/o-nas-kontakt/.
Worker’s solidarity union Priama akcia
Slovak section of the International Workers Association (IWA/AIT)