„The manager hated people. I remember how one boy was fired for going to the checkroom”, „She made fun of obesity, thus leading to the dismissal of an employee” – say former employees of Intermarché in Olsztyn. Since July 14 their voice has finally been heard. Thanks to a local left-wing activist, the Social Ombudsman and a young lawyer.

„I worked in this company for a short time, I would not have lasted longer, unfortunately everything that is written about this company is true. People have to sign a promissory note for a thousand zlotys, and they will lose this money if they want to break the contract. The contract is for three months and you work on a contract of mandate. You can not normally go home because on the first shift, when there is a delivery, you have to unload all the pallets, when you have done this you go and ask if you can kindly go home. Ms. Karolina does not respect anyone, even her sister who worked as an invoice clerk, so it shows something”. [original spelling] – reports @mmmmonia on the portal GoWork, introducing herself as a former employee of Intermarché in Olsztyn.

The discussion on the portal about working conditions at the store continues from April 2020. Mmmmonia is not the only person who strongly discourages potential workers from looking for a job in this place. For example, user Olala wrote in November: „Shouting and name-calling directed at employees is a daily occurrence at this job.”

– Browsing through Facebook groups with job offers in Olsztyn, one can see that the opinions about working at Intermarché are not favourable, as indicated by the negative reactions of users to posts published by the store’s official profile. Compared to other Olsztyn supermarkets, Intermarche definitely stands out by the number and frequency of job offers published. It is clear that they do not have a permanent team – says Martyna Morawska, an Olsztyn lawyer, in a conversation with me.

On July 14, Social Ombudsman Piotr Ikonowicz and local New Left activist Łukasz Michnik held a press conference. Martyna Morawska was standing next to them. She represented four employees of the company in a dispute with Intermarché, who had previously reported to the Social Ombudsman’s office.

Krzysztof will be framed for harassment, Marcin for theft…

To be precise, about ten people initially contacted Łukasz Michnik and Piotr Ikonowicz. Today, fifteen employees are in contact with them. More people have confirmed the words of their colleagues, but do not want to get involved in litigation. They are afraid. No wonder – some employees had literally heard that they will not find work anywhere if they speak out about the working conditions at Intermarché.

One of them was Jakub Orłowski, working at the company from December 2019 to March 2020 as a cashier-salesman. On a commission contract, of course. „If you try to slander me in my hometown I will find you and destroy you. You will be one big joke to every employer,” he claims to have heard. – I’ve heard that they’ll look for dirt on former employees, that they’ll try to frame Marcin for theft and Krzyśek for harassment,” he adds when I talk to him.

He has voice recordings and screenshots to prove his words. – The manager hated people, I remember how one boy was fired for going to the locker room,” he adds. The employees are unanimous: the atmosphere of terror prevailed in the company from the very beginning.

– The manager used the annex of 1000 PLN penalty for not fulfilling the contract of mandate as a threat for every mistake or insubordination of employees – says Michalina, who worked in the company from September to December 2020. After three months on a contract of mandate she managed to get a job. She worked as a cashier supervisor, then – unofficially – as a shift supervisor and invoice clerk. Unofficially, because the contract still said „cashier supervisor” – theoretically, with the same responsibilities.

– In my presence, the manager shouted, using vulgarities, at other employees – he says. – Overtime on the contract of employment was not paid, and attempts to take leave ended in arguments, the manager never entered the normal leave to which employees were entitled, only leave on demand.

Stupid, retarded, dirty

Her account is confirmed by Natalia Opalach, a cashier-saleswoman who worked at Intermarché from March 10 to April 16, 2021. – You had to be at the store at 5:20, while the shift started at 6:00 – you were not paid for 40 minutes before work. The shift should have lasted until 2:00 p.m., but you could only leave work with the manager’s permission. Almost every day you had to stay after hours under the threat of dismissal. Under a contract of employment, overtime was paid at the end of the shift, but not under a contract of employment. What is more, the manager called for work on weekends,” the woman tells me.

But that was not the worst of it.

– The manager repeatedly humiliated the workers in front of the customers, using vulgar language. Words like 'retarded, dirty, stupid’ were the order of the day,” she recalls. The woman also claims that the manager photographed and filmed employees without their permission whenever she felt like it. And when employees refused to follow instructions that went beyond their job description, she threatened them with a named fine from Sanitation.

Due to the annex, which stipulated a fine of 1000 PLN for failure to perform or improper performance of an order included in the contract, Natalia Opalach did not receive any money for two weeks of work after the contract was terminated. They were charged on account of the penalty.

I don’t have a fever, so neither do you!

Marcin Chodak worked at Intermarché from 17 February 2020 until 8 May of the following year. At the plant he performed the functions of cashier supervision, worked on a contract of mandate, and after two months on a contract of employment. The leave to which he was entitled, he did not get. But he had to come to work on his day off more than once.

He also remembered vulgarities and invectives directed at employees. And not only. – Bonuses were paid according to the humor and personal preferences of the manager. In addition, fictitious training sessions took place in the company – he recalls.

According to a former cashier supervisor, on one occasion the manager counted the contents of a safe alone and threatened to charge employees for shortages in it as retaliation.

– One day, a scale broke down in the department, and employees were charged for the repairs. The manager charged employees for unsold merchandise past its expiration date (she regularly ordered too much). During the pandemic, the manager did not take the temperature of the workers, I remember a situation where she checked her temperature saying that she did not have a fever… so they all go to the store,” she relates.

Jakub Nowak, Piotr Ikonowicz’s assistant, couldn’t believe the words of the employees who will now fight for justice at first.

– While driving to the site I heard that she demanded permission to leave work at the end of a shift, forced unpaid overtime, and threw „disobedient” employees out of work under the pretext of drunkenness. Apparently, she was addressed as „queen” and referred to herself as „worse than Hitler”.  I could not believe it at first, but these accounts were confirmed,” he concludes.

Bullying and forced statements

– At meetings and during numerous conversations employees drew their attention mainly to the use of mobbing by the store management and the lack of implementation of the anti-mobbing procedure in cases of its reporting – Article 943 of the Labour Code. As indicated by the employees, they were subjected to psychological violence, i.e. ridiculing, mocking, calling them names with words commonly recognized as offensive, recording and photographing employees without prior consent, using their position to make them sign false statements – accusing co-workers of performing work under the influence of drugs, or theft”. – Martyna Morawska summarizes the employees’ testimonies. She goes on to say: – The company allegedly did not respect the provisions on uninterrupted daily rest (11h break between shifts) – Article 132 § 1 of the Labour Code; compensation for overtime worked – Article 1511 of the Labour Code and Article 1512 of the Labour Code, In these civil law contracts there were included unauthorized in the light of the labour law and unfavourable for the employee contractual clauses (Article 18 of the Labour Code), in connection with which there occurred contradictory to the labour law, disproportionate to the earnings deductions of remuneration – in the amount of PLN 1,000.

A group gathered around Łukasz Michnik, Piotr Ikonowicz, supported by Martyna Morawska, using the rights of a non-governmental organization to file a complaint to the National Labor Inspectorate in connection with numerous violations by the employer, submitted a notice and a motion to take control actions. The labor inspector will examine, among other things, whether there were deductions contrary to the Labor Code, whether the minimum wage was complied with, whether the employer implemented an anti-bullying procedure in case employees reported harassment, and whether civil law contracts were concluded at the workplace instead of employment contracts. If the inspector finds the above violations, the PIP may impose on the employer a fine of up to PLN 2,000. In the case of concluding civil law contracts instead of employment contracts, a motion for declaring an employment relationship will be filed to the court. In the case of more serious violations, the labor inspector may join the proceedings before the court as an auxiliary prosecutor. If the court finds serious violations, the court may impose a fine from PLN 1,000 to PLN 30,000 on the employer.

These are slanders

– The President of the Company’s Management Board – Piotr Kucharski denied that any violations or misconduct took place in the workplace. MANET sp. z o. o. responded to the employees’ allegations by issuing a statement indicating that employee rights at Intermarche are not violated, no one is harassing the staff, and overtime work is paid. Initially, the statement signed by over 20 employees of the store was published on the private Facebook profile of the Company’s proxy, Elwira Kucharska. Due to the objection of the persons appearing under the statement to the publication of their names, the statement disappeared from the profile,” reports the Olsztyn lawyer.

However, the content of the statement was published on one of the local portals, Gazeta Olsztyńska. „We, the employees of Intermarche in Olsztyn, would like to refer to and oppose the reports and rumours that have come to light in recent days that our manager Ms Karolina has been bullying the employees, forcing them to sign promissory notes for property, forcing them to work overtime and making them call themselves „Queen”. None of us were or are being bullied, either mentally or physically. These slanders were made up by employees who worked for us briefly and unreliably. There are a lot of people working in our store. We are free people, we work of our own free will, including overtime, for which of course we are paid. If the situations presented in the rumors had occurred, each of us would have found another job,” says the beginning of the statement published on the Internet. The statement goes on to deny any accusations or complaints made by former employees.

– I would like to believe that the statement is true, however according to the information provided to us by persons who have terminated their cooperation with Intermarche – they are familiar with the practice of the store management which obliged their team to draw up/sign statements of dubious content, often including statements seriously incriminating colleagues who – against the management’s will – handed in their notice of termination, were on sick leave or on vacation – Martyna Morawska comments on the statements.

To two former employees of the store, the manager Karolina Górnecka, through her attorney, sent a summons to desist from violating personal interests „by slandering her good name in social media and on websites and by spreading untrue information about her and about her conduct and work as the manager of Inter Marche in Olsztyn. The summons is accompanied by a demand to pay PLN 2,500 each to a social cause indicated by her and a demand for an apology.

– In light of the information provided to us by the former and current store personnel, the execution of Karolina Górnecka’s demands is unacceptable. I understand that the manager is currently in a difficult situation and her actions are an attempt to defend herself, but I cannot agree to demand an apology and payment from two former employees in a situation where over twenty people (former and current employees of Intermarché in Olsztyn) accuse Karolina of mobbing. It should be noted that the purpose of legal and media activities undertaken in connection with the situation of employees of Intermarché in Olsztyn is not to annoy Karolina Górnecka but the desire to improve working conditions in the store and to respect workers’ rights. Criticism of the management of a workplace is a desirable action when serious violations occur in the workplace. This is especially important from the point of view of the interests of current and future employees of the store – Martyna Morawska tells me.

This is one of many clashes

– The case of Intermarche in Olsztyn is for me another proof of how low standards of protection of employees and their rights are in Poland. People who work with us, who were employed in this supermarket, tell us things that no one in the labor market should ever have to experience – says Łukasz Michnik, who has been involved in the Olsztyn Intermarche case for six months. – Our goal is change, we will not allow anyone in Olsztyn or in Poland to experience such hell. We have filed a complaint with the National Labour Inspectorate, we are building a union committee inside, and soon we will present a list of demands for changes in the conditions of employment at Intermarche. It’s time to show that in this country the management of enterprises is also watched and that they do not go unpunished – he adds.

Intermarché in Olsztyn did not want to comment on the matter. My phone calls went unanswered. „There is nothing to talk about. These are slanders,” I got a reply from the store’s official Facebook account when I asked for a comment that way.

In September, 6 workers supported by Łukasz Michnik again intervened at Intermarche. On that day, at their request, the State Labor Inspectorate began its actions to explain what was happening in the company. Together with the Trade Union Alternative they presented a list of demands concerning changes in working and employment conditions in the company, and also they have sent a letter to the head office of Intermarche in which we describe the scale of the pathology occurring at Intermarche in Olsztyn.

So far still no response.

 

 

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