Thursday, 18 October 2007

Afraid of the boss

In the cleaning and catering sectors, employees are afraid to let people know that they are in contact with a union. This became clear at a seminar organised by the Netherlands Centre for Social Innovation on 4 July.
FNV Bondgenoten’s Eddy Stam spoke about his efforts to introduce ‘organising’ in the cleaning sector. It regards assertive trade union campaigns that aim to empower employees.
The method was developed during the famous Justice for Janitors campaign of the American services union SEIU. Stam went to America to work with the SEIU and learn more about the approach.
In the Netherlands, organising appears to be working too. For example, FNV Bondgenoten identified 90 cleaners at the Delft Technical University, 75 of whom have by now joined the union.
Stam explains that it is not very helpful to call non-members profiteers. “If you call someone a profiteer, you can be pretty sure he is not going to sign up as a member”.
The cleaners’ wages make up only a fraction of the turnover of companies that contract cleaning companies, and they could easily afford the costs of a reasonable pay rise. “Happiness can be bought cheaply in that market”, Stam said.
Yet, fierce competition makes cleaning companies eager to cut costs. For example, Asito cleaners get only one t-shirt per year. If it is worn out, they have to pay ten euro.
Bea van den Bosch organised a campaign for the FNV Horecabond (catering union), to protest against a collective agreement reached without involvement of the major unions.
Earlier, she had worked for construction union FNV Bouw. “We were used to go on strike for seven weeks in order to reach a collective agreement”. This approach would not work in catering, for many employees are afraid even to let people know they are in contact with a union.
Flyers were therefore printed on small cards that employees could easily hide in their pockets.
The FNV Horecabond’s strategy consisted of a combination of public actions and joint conferences involving employers and employees. To start the debate, they used rather hilarious yet depressing videos showing what kind of situations staff find themselves in.
Further, cards saying ‘you are now in an establishment that does not have a decent collective agreement’ were handed out in a restaurant. The owner called the police, and activists were made to leave the restaurant and were fined.

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