Poll: Supermarket chains systemically harass staff

Tomáš Fránek
20. 8. 2008 10:25
Discrimination, overtime work and bad conditions
Albert, one of the major Czech supermarket chains
Albert, one of the major Czech supermarket chains | Foto: Tomáš Adamec, Aktuálně.cz

Brno - Czech supermarket chains employ tens of thousands. Now, a unique study showed that the supermarket employees work often in law-breaching conditions and are subjected to harassment and discrimination.

The extensive analysis proved that many employees work overtime without being reimbursed for it, they are not allowed to rest, salaries are low and pregnant women do not have their work contracts renewed.

The supermarket managers claim these are only minor cases and only formal errors. 

The study that is the first of its kind ever produced in the Czech Republic was drafted by lawmakers from the Ecology Law Service (EPS) as part of the Grade Program. EPS monitors supermarket chains on a long-term basis.

The EPS survey is based on testimonies of employees that have been asking them for help in the last two years. Also, they used reports made by the State Labor Inspection Office.

Systemic lawbreaking

EPS found that giant supermarket chains are systemically breaking the law. The rights of majority of employees have been repeatedly violated.

"Failing to reimburse overtime work to all employees irrespectively, demanding unnecessary or discriminatory information from employment seekers, bad or no evidence of worktime or denying time for rest between two shifts is typically regarded as systemic lawbreaking," Jana Koukalová from EPS explains in the study. 

Moreover, from fourteen questionnaires each candidate applyingfor a job had to fill in, six were discriminatory.

"The most frequent question that is basically discriminatory in terms of gender and marital status is requiring the information on the number of children and marital status." Questions about nationality appeared in the questionnaires as well. 

Unequal salaries

On top of that, the EPS lawyers noted instances of part-time employees forced to work without any break. In a trial period this meant work for seven days without a single day off.

Unequal reimbursement is another problem. While salaries of employees who have been working in a supermarket for a longer period of time stagnate, a new comer´s salary is continually rising.

Jednotlivá oddělení zboží jsou zvýrazněna grafikou nad regály, podobně jako v hypermarketech.
Jednotlivá oddělení zboží jsou zvýrazněna grafikou nad regály, podobně jako v hypermarketech. | Foto: Tomáš Adamec, Aktuálně.cz

"This way, it so happens that those who have been with the company longer receive a lower salary than new employees who had to be trained by senior staff," Koukalová claims, adding that supermarket chains are breaking the labor code in this way.

Minor errors

Among those that are harassed most are pregnant women and members of trade unions.

"We know of cases of pregnant women whose contracts were not renewed, as they should, or they were fired during a trial period. Also, members of trade unions are discriminated, as they often get only an elementary salary."

Supermarket business representatives say that these are only minor offences and formal errors.

"During their inspections in 2007, regional inspectors registered 53 minor formal offences regarding work safety. Given the total number of our employees and controls that were carried out, this means this is a negligible number of errors," Ahold spokesman Libor Kytýr said to Aktuálně.cz.

The Ahold company runs the Albert and Hypernova chains, employing 14,000 people.

Kytýr added that his company doesn't breach the law and cooperate with trade unions.

Thousands of euro in fines

Last year, State Labor Inspection Office registered 425 offences to labor-law provisions in 17 chains, mostly in Kaufland (107), Billa (72) and Ahold (53).

Kaufland was fined with CZK 120,000 (EUR 4,800), Billa with CZK 155,000 (EUR 6,200) and Ahold with CZK 100,000 (EUR 4,000).


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