Today on Wednesday 17th we went to the headquarters of the company Metro AEBE in Metamorphosis looking for those in charge of the company. The reasons behind this were the recent accusations of a woman employed in the supermarket chain My Market. Her complaint concerned the non-renewal of her employment contract by the company, which cited her pregnancy as an excuse. This was announced directly to her without stating any other reasons or excuses and the employee was advised to re-apply for a job at the company after giving birth and ”they will see” if there is any position available.
These practices are not a side effect of the economic crisis. They constitute the outcome of a historical development which perceives pregnancy as some kind of workplace violation. To put this simply, during the 90’s, when supermarket chains in Greece were notified of employees being pregnant they responded by changing their position in the
company to posts that required heavy physical exertion, forcing pregnant women to quit so that the company would avoid having to pay severance. Since employment contracts now could guarantee work only for a few months, the same culture is now expressed in a more convenient practice: via refusal to renew employment contracts.
We repeat that these practices haven not been created or enforced presently because of a need to ”save the company” in times of an economic crisis. A quick look at the company’s finances as published on its website is enough for one to realise the following: since 2010
profit increased by 8%, revenue before tax was 110 million euro and the stores owned by the company doubled. The company holds an advantageous position in relation to its competitors since compared to them its operating expenses are 23% less, the amount of time they require to pay off their suppliers is twice longer and their net profits quadrupled.
If anyone thinks that finances don’t reveal much, we want to stress that this shows that the company is a strategic bad payer of its suppliers and exploits 10.000 workers in sweatshop conditions. Before we analyse the meaning of these practices from the perspective of a young employee who ”makes the mistake” to get pregnant, we state some financial facts which we had to search a bit deeper to find, since they were not
published by the company. This company has commendable social responsibility programs and yet fires pregnant women. Metro AEBE has had net profits of 76 million euro between 2012-2015 and payed 20 million in tax despite having been funded by the state with 38 million. Also we must not forget the scandal involving ”Marinopoulos” , a company whose 580 million debt toward its suppliers was scrapped in order for the
company to be bought by Metro AEBE.
Enough with the boring numbers let’s walk in the employee’s shoes. It is a standard practice of personnel managers- those who get paid to evaluate people like profit production machines – to ask future employees whether they intend to get pregnant within a certain amount of time. Whether employment contracts will be signed or not will depend on this answer as well as other requirements. Moreover, future employees,
under the fear of unemployment, are forced to sign an agreement that says they will not get pregnant and in some cases they hide their pregnancies for as long as they can. If the condition concerning pregnancy avoidance is not kept then employees must compensate the employer, in the form of a penalty clause, and are required to pay an amount equal to the severance an employee employees get after being fired.
Within the framework of discrimination, women experience harassment, in and out of the workplace, inequality in terms of work, salary, benefits, opportunities and rights. Of course we are not surprised that the explicit prohibition against becoming pregnant is just another main aspect of the gender discrimination against them.
We do not recognize and do not accept civil justice, on the contrary we recognize the value and meaning of every right people struggled and shed their blood for. These achievements, as they were stated in laws that protect expecting mothers from being fired, establish the right to pregnancy and maternity leave as well as motherhood benefits, are violated by the bosses. At the same time only a fraction of these violations are reported because the struggle for vindication takes a long time, costs a lot of money and is very damaging to mental health. More specifically, prompted by the issue of pregnancy and maternity leave for employees in the public sector, we witness a large section of the public express hostility against the ”lazy public servants” which leads to targeting mothers and parental rights that were recognized through social struggles. We repeat that these rights should have been the norm for all women.
While these struggles can and must involve the private sector through a mass and collective movement in order to express the rage against the bosses (the small ones as well as the large ones) unfortunately we see that social automatism becomes once again the contemporary version of ”divide and conquer”.
We underline the fact that the most direct consequence of firing or forcing mothers to quit their jobs is a condition of intense financial insecurity during pregnancy and the first three months following birth, during which there are increased financial needs. More or less these are the conditions faced by working mothers in this jungle we call the ”job market”, whether they concern younger or older women. We want to tell those gentlemen with the fat salaries and the rotten souls that they have our undivided attention. The times where these practices were not even published has passed.
To us companies like that are not faceless organizations, but represented by those disgusting people that manage them with their sick attitudes and practices. They call it ”company policy” but to us it is nonsense and unnatural. It’s the totality of their heinous, outraging and deeply immoral choices, the consequences of which must fall on all of us in order for them to be able to enjoy their slice of the pie.
The HR manager Yiannis Dritsas is directly responsible for the incident of the expecting mother who lost her job and directly involved are the big bosses, Pantelis Panteliades, also known as the ”fox of retail market” and his future successor, equally disgusting son, Aristotle. To all these respectable gentlemen we want to say that their interest lies with re-hiring this specific employee with the same conditions she was formerly employed and moreover to think twice when they contemplate doing the same to another employee.
Regarding the employees of this company, they must keep in mind that their lives will only worsen as long as they bow their head and ”mind their own business”. The only response to any kind of employment violation must be guided by the collective action of grassroots unions, solidarity and dignity. Apart from these, which are very basic, we have more to say, but ought to do so in the near future. We might have to use a harsh language but our goal is for them to understand that they are also responsible for these incidents and that we will naturally stand by them, look them in the eyes and speak the language of truth.
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