Geox heatwave: more than twenty workers collapsed on their work places

Foto: Mašina

Unbearable working conditions during the summer months in Geox factory in the city of Vranje.

Once again the discontentment of workers in Geox factory in Vranje is at its peak. Otherwise extremely hard working conditions are becoming almost unbearable during hot summer months. In the last two weeks, more than twenty workers had collapsed on their work places in this factory.

Last fall we wrote about the inhumane working conditions in the Italian shoe factory Geox in Vranje. The April “Abiti Puliti” campaign report shows that there were some improvements of working conditions, though the report also contains workers testimonies on further irregularities.

On June 30, the local newspaper “Vranjske” reported that ambulance had been called eight times to the factory in just one day, to take care of the workers in need of emergency assistance. The workers we have contacted say that in the last 15 days or so, twenty three people had collapsed while working.

Broken air conditioning and the lack of adequate ventilation system during extremely high summer temperatures, make working conditions in Geox test one’s physical endurance.

We are working as if half-asleep, dazed from glue evaporation and the heat. There is not enough oxygen in the hall and the overall micro climate is quite unhealthy for working — says one of the workers.

Reacting to workers complaints, Trade Union Confederation Nezavisnost (Independence) called for an urgent meeting with Geox management last week. Besides the management and trade union representatives, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) representatives were also supposed to be present at this meeting as observers. International initiative CCC, for the improvement of working conditions in textile industry production chains has been actively supporting workers of Geox factory in Vranje for almost a year. Milorad Panović of Nezavisnost stated:

The meeting was initially approved, only to be cancelled in the last moment. We wrote an official letter to Geox management demanding the meeting, but we were rejected via phone call. That way the meeting was unofficially postponed for the beginning of August. But, the employer agreed to meet the CCC delegation on Friday, so the question is why the trade union representatives could not be present at this meeting? What lies behind such a decision?

When we asked him about the cooperation with the management so far, Panović answered:

What sort of cooperation can we talk about? We had only one meeting with the company’s representatives where we stated some irregularities in certain work places. We reached an agreement to set those irregularities right, and to secure the protection on the work place for workers. However, judging by the condition of the hands of those who work on those positions in Geox, nothing has been done to correct this, for more than a month now. The fact that they refused to meet with us on Friday says a lot about their intentions.

We sent an official request for the Labour inspection, following the workers complaints to working in conditions with broken air conditioning with no adequate ventilation system, but they just noted that the working conditions in the factory are optimal. So why do then workers collapse?! — Panović stresses.

With the trade union’s approval, the delegation of CCC met on Friday with Geox factory management. Tomislav Kiš, secretary general of Croatian trade union “Novi Sindikat” (New Trade Union) and the representative of CCC for Croatia and Bojana Tamindžija representative of CCC for Serbia, attended the meeting.

The management had mostly tried to pacify the workers complaints, and to show willingness for finding solutions to immediate problems in the factory. It is obvious that there have been efforts for securing additional water supplies, which was also the problem, but the problem with air conditioning and the ventilation system will not be resolved by the end of July. The question is, what they have been waiting for, and how will the Geox workers survive the next twenty days — said Tomislav Kiš.

CCC states that they respect the fact that the company has received their delegation, but stress that, avoiding the only legitimate representatives of workers – the trade union – doesn’t support their claims that they are willing to cooperate and resolve the ongoing problems.

After the meeting with the management, CCC representatives met with Geox workers and Nezavisnost trade union representatives, and all of them, unanimously, repeated their complaints as opposed to the company’s claims. The workers claim that the temperatures are way higher than optimal, that they are forbidden to use the toilet after 2 p.m., that there are not enough toiletries, and that what insults their human dignity the most, is the behaviour of their superiors.

The Geox workers are asking for nothing more than a right to a dignified work. If the foreign company – whose business has been heavily supported with the public money of the Republic of Serbia – not only denies them this right, but deprives them from right to struggle when it delegitimizes the trade union, then the logical question is who should bear the responsibility for such actions? — said Serbian CCC representative, Bojana Tamindžija.

Tomislav Kiš added:

The situation is that two parties have made an agreement at the expense, and in the name of the third party. I’m talking about the government of the Republic of Serbia and the Geox Company, while no one asks the workers about anything. In the situation where there is no intention to engage in social dialogue the problems will continuously pile up, until this changes. Bypassing the trade union as the only legitimate and representative body of the workers is a very bad move. This creates the possibilities for social turmoil that will sooner or later happen, and if this situation goes on it will have overall bad repercussions for all three parties involved.

Judging by the management claims, the workers are faced with twenty more unbearably hot July days, and the challenge of enduring them with no air conditioning. Will the growing number of collapsing workers be enough for the management and the state to react more efficiently, or are they, as one worker asks: “waiting for someone to die before they react?”

Translation from Serbian: Tamara Baković Jadžić



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