Two Suicide Attempts this Month at Polish Telecom and Open Letter from Workers

Two Suicide Attempts this Month at Polish Telecom and Open Letter from Workers

Workers ask to help spread information about their plight.

The wave of suicides at France Telecom last year made headlines around the world. But in Poland, the suicide attempts of two workers in one month at TP S.A. (Polish Communications, owned by France Telecom) is being hushed over, as are complaints by the workers. They have also written an open letter, again repressed by the mainstream media (but published here).

On March 8, a 38-year old woman jumped out of a third floor window at the Poznan TP S.A. office. Although he broke her spine and sustained injuries to the brain, she miraculously survived.

The woman had worked an office job at TPSA, but when layoffs were made, she was offered a new (and worse) position at their call center.

Work at the call center is infamously stressful. Not only because of the angry clients calling, but also because of the norms and procedures imposed on the workers by TP S.A. On top of this, there have been numerous incidents of mobbing. Although unions brought this up as a major issue, and TP S.A. agreed to take measures to reduce stress levels in its collective agreement, nothing has been done.

Add to this the fact that TP S.A. is restructuring and recently announced the dismissal of 1900 more workers.

The woman from Poznan was not the only one who could not cope and tried to send a desperate message to the company. On March 24, a woman in Szczecin also tried to kill herself on the job, but was saved thanks to the lightening fast intervention of her colleagues.

In a conversation with workers from the Warsaw office, we found out that employees are on the edge. After the incident in Poznan, some small group of concerned workers discussed whether this was also possible in their office. Since then, they have been vigilantly keeping their eyes open for signs that somebody might snap.

Problems in TP S.A. are caused not only by uncertainty about jobs. The atmosphere is like a pressure cooker in many offices and departments, where employees are driven to be ultra-efficient and work beyond their capacity.

They are deliberately understaffed, overworked and squeezed. Some workers are also convinced that such belt-tightening is even necessary, since TP S.A., as the telecommunications incumbent in Poland, is the constant target of the Competition Office and EU policies which have eroded much of its client base in the name of "improving competitiveness".

Add to this poor management and an improper attitude towards employees. A good example is the commonplace mobbing in the Poznan office. In 2006, one employee finally decided not to take it anymore and went to court. He had been very badly treated by 3 managers and had secretly recorded some incidents. He won his court case but, to his dismay, there was no disciplinary procedure taken against any of the three, two of which retain their posts to this day. Employees at the Poznan office say that this is a perfect reflection of how seriously the firm treats this issue. Some even claim that the incident convinced those managers they were untouchable, inspiring them to become even worse.

Workers, constantly being faced with the threat of redunancies, do not feel in a strong position to force these issues with the firm. A few unions have, but it looks like the company just paid them lip service and nothing is being done to tackle the real problems. Some of the most desperate and disgruntled have tried to get attention by writing an open letter in response to the incident in Poznan. It was ignored by the mainstream media, ostensibly because it is anonymous. (*) Now they have started airing their grievances on the internet.

(*Although it is not signed with a list of names, we know that journalists were contacted personally and are aware that this is a legitimate letter and that it reflects the opinions of a significant group of employees.)

Below is a translation of the open letter, along with an added comment, written a few days ago:

After the suicide attempt in Poznan on March 8, 2010, another attempted suicide occured, this time in Szczecin on March 24, 2010. Only thanks to the lighting-fast reaction of co-workers was another tragedy avoided.

This woman was hospitalized and had a total nervous breakdown.

What has been going on in TP S.A. for a long time is not only related to the Call Center; mobbing and dismissals have been common throughout the company for years. But recently the extent of this has escalated.

Employees can no longer stand the psychological pressure put on them for many years.

In the media there is a conspiracy of silence, with a lack of information about the tragic incidents and the situation in TP S.A. From this we may infer how strong are the powers behind TP and Orange (*) since information about abused animals made headlines in the media but there is silence about the psychological abuse of people!

(* Mobile phone provider also owned by France Telecom)

How the bosses treat us cannot be explained by the crisis. It is a sheepish drive to power and profit and any cost because money prevents them from seeing others as human beings.

Here is the open letter:

Warsaw, March 8, 2010
Workers from Polish Telecommunications S.A.

OPEN LETTER

As employees of Polish Telecommunications S.A., we address the President of Poland, the Director of TP S.A., the union organizations and others...

We protest the treatment of workers as objects, not subjects.

We protest the treatment of workers as slaves and as instruments to make profit at any cost, in exchange for low pay, especially in comparision with the directors and managers in TP S.A.

Despite having introduced a Code of Ethics, a Code of Best Practices, a Social Pact and even an agreement with the Office of Electronic Communications and many other regulations, mobbing and violations of the Labour Code are every day occurrences.

Workers are forced to achieve very strict sales goals and work standards which are impossible to achieve in a normal 8-hour work day; the management who plan work in such a way for the employees are well aware of this fact.

In order to reach the sales targets, people work over 10 hours a day and they haven't received overtime pay for this for many years.

Workers are frightened by directors and management with threats of dismissal and other forms of mobbing which is against the Labour Code, which obliges employers to combat mobbing.

Despite the Social Pact concluded between unions and the Board of TP S.A., about voluntary redundancies, the managers discriminate against employees who have anything to do with sales, refusing to allow them to leave.

The Social Work Inspectors from the trade unions, who are supposed to care about compliance with the Labour Code and professional ethics do nothing to change the situation.

This is not just an anonymous letter - this is a cry from desperate employees from TP S.A. after the tragic suicide attempt of our co-worker.

We ask, who gave you the right to treat workers in such a deplorable way? Think about whose interests are you working in, and what damage you are doing! Are workers in Poland supposed to start committing suicide like in France Telekom in order for you to wake up and understand what evil you are doing?? !!!

Workers of Polish Telecommunications S.A.

Selected source material (in Polish):

POZNAŃ - Ofiara mobbingu odeszła z TP: winni nadal pracują w firmie
http://wielkopolska.naszemiasto.pl/artykul/346896,poznan-ofiara-mobbingu-odeszla-z-tp-winni-nadal-pracuja-w,id,t.html

Wyskoczyła z okna, bo bała się zwolnienia?
http://www.pracownik.net.pl/wyskoczyla_z_okna_bo_bala_sie_zwolnienia

List otwarty pracownicy Telekomunikacji Polskiej S.A.
http://www.pracownik.net.pl/list_otwarty_pracownicy_telekomunikacji_polskiej_s_a

Posted By

akai
Mar 28 2010 12:44

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Comments

Steven.
Mar 29 2010 12:10

very sad, but really good article, thank you for posting and writing it.

Do you have an author pseudonym you are happy with? Because it would be good to credit your pieces with an author tag...

one question though: What do you mean by "mobbing"? You mean bullying?

akai
Mar 29 2010 12:41

This is very sad since the problem is huge but because of constant threats of mass layoffs, there is little to no open worker resistance.

Workers there specifically asked us to try and spread this news and this letter and we see locally it has already attracted some attention.

"Mobbing" is bullying. This English term was used in Sweden and Germany and, if I am not mistaken, was taken as a loan word into several European languages, whereas "bullying" wasn't. Sorry that I forgot to write English English. smile

If you want to tag me, go ahead. My name is signed.

Steven.
Mar 29 2010 12:50

right, that's funny, because "mobbing" in English English doesn't really work here, the only meaning in English would be something like forming a huge group or "mob" in the street or whatever.

With your name, do you mean Akai, or your full real name?

akai
Mar 29 2010 13:34

Akai.

Mobbing is a way of describing a type of animal behaviour and it is sometimes even used by native speakers to describe workplace bullying - but that seems to be on the otherside of the pond, where quite a few books actually use that term.

There is some interesting background on the term around this page:
http://arts.uwaterloo.ca/~kwesthue/mobbing.htm

baboon
Mar 29 2010 15:07

This is an international phenomenon in all the major states. There's always been bullying at work, always been repression and grief from the bosses to some degree or the other, but there's never been the expression of suicide at work as there is now - in this respect and research into this phenomenon, see the ICC's website for an article translated from its French section on suicides at work.

Bullying and intimidation at work has increased during the last two decades but is now ratcheting up to new levels with the development of the economic crisis, the need for capital to sharpen up its attacks and the disorientation of the working class, ie, the latter is allowing it to happen. Suicide at work (where's the no mistake about what the cause is, rather than being "hidden" at home or elsewhere) is a last, desperate, individual and forlorn attempt to rail against the system and maintain one's dignity in the face of intolerable circumstances. We should all feel these injuries.

Samotnaf
Mar 30 2010 12:23

At a renowned scientific research firm near Montpellier in France, there have been 3 successful suicides within 6 months in a building containing 3 research teams of about 25 personnel each - about 4% of the workforce for that particular building. None of this in the media.

In the library, at the end of the text I put there on the history of the British miners, I put this about the atmosphere in parts of the UK two decades after the defeat of the miners struggles. It's perhaps a bit over -abstract and meandering, but nevertheless more pertinent than not (actually the library version has the 2 last sentences missing for some unknown reason):

Quote:
Suicide is painless

Not surprisingly, there's mass depression, a semi-suicidal gripping onto the edge of life that is driving millions, probably billions, to bad restless nights and tired tiring days. Everywhere people feel defeated - often at the simplest level (in their friendships, for example). Admitting defeat is not necessarily the same as resignation. Admitting defeat is not necessarily the same as accepting defeat as an inevitability. Accepting defeat doesn’t help: in fact, it can only help intensify suicidal and/or psychotically murderous feelings. Admitting defeat, however, should mean a recognition of what has happened, a recognition of reality which is a necessary basis for any consideration of a future attack on this brutal money terrorist reality.

We waver between the semi-suicidal exhaustion that defeat brings and the dream of some future total revolt. Hasn’t it always been the case for the survivors (the vast majority)? – after Spartacus, after the Paris Commune, after Kronstadt.? Probably not, for the most part, in the case of the Commune and Spartacus: the will to self-destruction is borne not just out of the impotence but out of a profound sense of isolation following defeat, a sense arising not merely from the feeling that destroying hierarchical power is an impossibility but above all from the lack of a communal consciousness that alienation is social (the rise of Stalin, however, was accompanied by a big increase in suicides, particularly amongst those who had placed their faith in the Bolsheviks).

Why be so morbid? Surely one cannot hope to inspire revolt if one talks about these desperate feelings. And yet not acknowledging them, and trying to uncover their material bases in the all-pervasive alienation of the Economy and its images makes people even more isolated in these feelings. These feelings are everywhere not admitted in the rulers’ overwhelming show of the possibility of happiness exclusively within the production and consumption of this society; these feelings are everywhere considered to be solely your fault, an aberration.

In the mid-1960s a revolutionary of that time said, “The will to live is a political decision”. We can see now that the project of destroying political social relations, the only political decision ever worth making, was effectively defeated – at least in the immediate epoch - in the mid-to-late 80s. Which is why the victory of political decisions over the will to live has never been so great - just look at the whole post-9/11 world. The intensification of political-economic power and of hierarchy at every level of life (in your relationships also, dear reader), in every part of the world has reduced the will to live to the will to survival. And mere survival makes death seem like a release, the ‘freedom’ of nothingness, the end to pain. In the end, the will to mere survival makes suicide seem a possibility.

Nowadays the etiquette is not to admit defeat and to sneer at those who readily admit to being defeated (for the moment). Isn’t this a bit like the way Christianity, after Spartacus, turned the crucifix, and the reality of defeat, into a symbol of defiance, but not the reality. The American comedian Lenny Bruce said that if Christ had existed today, everyone would be walking around with little electric chairs round their neck. Nowadays almost everyone hides their defeat beneath an ideology of defiance every bit as perverse as wearing an electric chair round your neck. This basic self-pride undoubtedly expresses a real desire to subvert daily life in some way but unless people recognise how far defeated they are, and the history of this defeat, this real desire can only be symbolic, as symbolic as an electric chair round your neck. Or an @narchist T-shirt.

What are we getting at here? It’s no use pretending we’re taking charge of even a little bit of our lives, or at least of the struggle to transform our lives, if all we’re doing is hiding from ourselves how much we have been forced to repress and how much insanity we are having to put up with. This goes as much for those who consider themselves revolutionary as for anyone else. The inability to attack the present, the only time revolt and revolutions are ever made, makes some people, whose significance is mainly in their heads, adopt a timeless theory borrowed from the specialists of the past which they hope one day the working class will realise the eternal truth of. But all the clichés about creating a global human community beyond the economy etc. can’t hide an essential retreat into an almost transcendental abstraction as cosily safe, and as dogmatic, as hope in its religious forms. To really re-discover the revolutionary energy of the past one must first despair of this world. One must face the enormity of the results of defeat and the history of why past struggles were defeated. The path to the end of alienation follows the straight and narrow path of alienation itself.

Steven.
Mar 30 2010 12:45

if you could put anything in our news section about those suicides in France you mentioned Sam that would be great - then at least there would be something in our "media"

akai
Mar 31 2010 14:55

There was an interesting note yesterday in the Wall Street Journal about Polish Telecommunications.

TP SA is apparently considering in acquisitions in different business. This is according to an interview with the CEO. In the interview, CEO Witucki explained that "TPSA has eight billion zlotys ($2.75 billion) of free cash".

We think this should be grounds for a big scandal. While the company is threatening to slash thousands of more jobs, it is just gathering capital for expansion. At the costs of jobs and workers' health.

A similar situation was discovered at Polish National Railways last year when we learned that they were considering investing in German railways. (!) And at the same time, sacked thousands.

baboon
Apr 10 2010 11:38

http://en.internationalism.org/icconline/2010/3/suicide. How does one make the link so that you just click on it? I'd welcome some instruction on this.

There was a short, poignant interveiw on TV last night with an Irish paramedic. He said not only did he and his collegues have to cope with a 20% wage cut but that they had to deal with many more suicides and attempted suicides which were the direct result of the economic crisis.

edit: OK, it's done it.