Greece: Striking Athens bus cleaners continue their struggle

Court declares strike ‘lawful’

Cleaners at Athens bus depots have been taking strike action to win unpaid wages and better working conditions.They are on strike again from Monday 16 May to Wednesday 18 May.

Below are two articles from the website of Xekinima (CWI Greece). The first is the text of a leaflet distributed by Xekinima supporting the strike, which includes a statement from the strikers. The second is a report of an important court victory by the cleaners against the attempts by their bosses to have their strike declared illegal.

Please send messages of support for the cleaners’ strike to:

Xekinima proposes to its supporters and friends to photocopy and distribute this statement in their workplaces, to inform the working class about the struggle of the Athens bus cleaners and the scandalous attitude of SYRIZA government members, especially the attitude and behaviour of the new administration (appointed by the SYRIZA government) of the public Athens Bus Company, OSY, which essentially shields the bus cleaners’ "mafia" contractor, 'Link Up'.

The following statement is from the striking cleaners:

We, the bus cleaners at OSY are again on strike. We started the new round of strikes on 6 May.

The company, Link Up, contracted with the bus company (OSY) to clean the Athens buses, which is our employer, has not paid us for months. We are owed wages for 2-4 months (depending on the bus depot).

In the vast majority of cases, we receive 450 euro monthly for working 6 hour shifts at night, doing hard, unhealthy work. The wage that we should get, in accordance with the law, is at least 680 euros. Moreover, Link Up never pays us Christmas, Easter and Summer holiday bonuses which are part of our annual wage.

In almost all the depots, we are forced to clean, every night, many more buses than is legally allowed. At the Athens bus depot of Anhtousa (a suburb in eastern Athens), for example, we are forced to clean up to 25 buses each, instead of 13! As a result, the buses are never cleaned properly and we are super-exploited and suffering from severe exhaustion.

Link Up does not even give us personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, clothing and work shoes). It does not even give us bags to dispose of garbage. In many depots, In many depots, we get given only one black garbage bag every 6 months and we are obliged to empty and wash the bags every night and re-use them!

From the beginning of our struggle, we faced threats that we will be fired, etc. The bus company, OSY, which employs the contractor although very well aware of what is happening, after repeated complaints on our part, act with completely indifference.

On 11 May, approximately 50 cleaners met (for a second time) with the OSY management. We asked OSY to no longer use the contractor because of their violations of the contract with OSY and also of labour legislation. We also asked, as provided by law (Article 68 3863/2010) that OSY pay us the same money that the contractor owes us.

The CEO of OSY, Mr. Anagnostopoulos, replied that he would continue to pay the contractor and that the contractor has provided "affidavits" which deems they do not owe OSY any debts. We explained to Mr. Anagnostopoulos that the "affidavits" from the contractor are fake; the contractor company is lying and provided proof to that effect! We pointed out that OSY is obliged (according to their contract with Link Apr) to check if our contractor pays us properly and meet all the provisions of labour legislation. Mr. Anagnostopoulos showed a defiant disregard for us. He also expressed indifference about our problems. He even said that since Link Up used to owe us 5 to 6 wages and now just 2 to 4, the situation we are faced with is "bearable".

When Mr. Anagnostopoulos gets a monthly salary of a few thousand euros, how can he understand what it means to live on 450 euros and be unpaid for four months? We live in completely different worlds!

Mr Anagnostopoulos claimed that the real reason for our strike action is that somebody promised us that if we do take action and create "trouble" we will be hired by the state. He made clear to us that "this is not going to happen". We explained to Mr. Anagnostopoulos that nobody promised us anything and that we do not act on "promises". However, we do demand (as we openly told him duing on our first meeting in January) that OSY should get rid of the contractor and sign contracts directly with us. This should be the first step to reverse the injustice done to us. Many of us have cleaned buses at OSY for 15-18 years. The contractors changed but the workers who clean the buses are the same. However we are not considered as employees of OSY. We believe that at some point in the future we should be hired by OSY on permanent and stable labour contracts, with full employment and social security rights.

We will continue our strike, demanding:

  • Immediate repayment of all our accrued wages and benefits
  • Observe the national general collective agreement, labour laws and all health and safety standards in the workplace
  • The immediate cessation of acts of intimidation from our employers, including threats of dismissal
  • The immediate withdrawal of the dismissal of our work colleague, Siranush Chorekcyan, at Piraeus depot

Court declares bus cleaners strike ‘lawful’

Contractor’s claims against workers rejected

The Athens bus cleaners strike continues. The law court action by the contractor employing the cleaners, Link Up, in order to have the strike declared illegal, was dismissed by the court.

The court examined two witnesses: An official from Link Up, the contractor, and Apostolis Kassimeris. Apostolis, a member of Xekinima (CWI Greece) and of the Executive of OASA Workers’ Union (the bus drivers' union) has actively stood with the struggle of the cleaners from their first night shift of action. Apostolis was the “witness” on behalf of the Cleaners and of the Athens Labor Centre which provides official support to the cleaners’ strike (The cleaners’ strike was launched by the Labour Centre of Athens, EKA, because due to a months’ long strike of lawyers, the cleaners cannot submit their papers to complete the establishment of their union to a court).

The answers of the contractors’ “witness” in court were pathetic! Most questions from the presiding judge were answered by the contractor with "I do not know", or "the director told me so." The contractor “witness” did not hesitate to tell lies, such as that they owe the cleaners only one month wages.

The witness from the striking cleaners, Apostolis, refuted all the lies of the contractor and submitted documents demonstrating that the cleaners are unpaid for 2-4 months.

In a desperate attempt to reverse the course of the trial, the lawyers for the contractor showed the judge posts from the Facebook account of Apostolis Kassimeris and asked him pointedly if he believes that the job of keeping buses clean should be passed on to the public. Apostolis, of course, replied in the affirmative. Apostolis on his facebook account argued for the cleaners to be employed directly by OSY, i.e. OSY should not give the job to the contractor, but employ the cleaners’ directly. The lawyers of the contractor “jumped” on this to argue that the strike had political aims and was not related to the fact that the cleaners were unpaid! Their arguments were, of course, ridiculous.

The cleaners were thrilled with the court's decision and will continue their struggle even more determined and strong.

The cleaners’ strike will continue from Monday 16 May onwards, after having completed already 10 days of strike.

Victory to the cleaners’ struggle!

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May 2016