‘It is a shame we recruited you’: how a French-Polish businessman fired a labour organizer

In the developed economies of Western Europe, labour unions are considered a standard actor of social life. This is, however, not the case in Poland. The CEO of Sii Polska, a big IT company, decided to teach his employee, who dared to set up an union, this lesson. – I quitted France in 2005 for this reason: too many trade unions. Too many strikes – Gregoire Nitot wrote in an e-mail which was then made public. – It is better to invest in more liberal & open-minded countries where we can easily dismiss bad performers & trouble makers – he continued.

As long as Krystian Kosowski was just an ordinary IT employee, nobody in Sii Polska had any questions or concerns about him and the quality of his work. Neither had the customers of Sii Polska, for whom Kosowski worked on liquidating IT defects. Then, however, the man and his teammates decided to organize a labour union. They were not satisfied with their salaries and wanted to communicate more effectively with company management.

– When people were hired, they heard that there would be only one working weekend per month. Then it turned out that one weekend was actually non-working. And there were more such “little things”

– Krystian Kosowski tells me.

– The most important thing, however, was the low wages, compared to the industry. Individual negotiations with the manager gave us nothing. That is why we decided to form an union.

In other words, the workers wanted to make use of their basic democratic right of organising and having a representation.

The right to organising and collective bargaining was secured long ago by organised workers’ movement and is also inscribed into Polish constitution. Moreover, Polish Labour Code protects labour union leaders, who cannot be fired without an agreement with their organisation – unless they committed a very serious breach of workers’ duties.

Unfortunately, not all employers treat these protection clauses seriously. Some of them risk firing a trade union leader even if they know that in the end the court will rule in his/her favour. They know very well how long are the proceedings in Polish labour courts. Even if the fired union organizer proves that there were no grounds for the dismissal, the verdict might be pronounced years after. In the meantime, the union leader is no longer present at the company grounds and his/her workmates may draw the conclusions.

This is what happened to Magda Malinowska, dismissed from Amazon in 2021 and still fighting for her right to return to work. This is what happened to Jolanta Żołnierczyk, a Kaufland employee who defended working mothers’ right to equal pay. This is also what happened to Krystian Kosowski just after a week after his trade union organization started working.

And the circumstances of his dismissal are very… particular. Or rather particularly disgusting.

On 18 November, the trade union organization affiliated with Związkowa Alternatywa union federation started working. A few days later, Kosowski announced this fact to his workmates on the internal network. He did not wait long for a reaction. On 25 November, he got a highly emotional e-mail from company’s founder and CEO, Gregoire Nitot. On the same day, he was dismissed from the company for ‘detrimental actions against the employer’, ‘inciting other workers to a negative attitude towards the employer’ and ‘creating negative atmosphere in the workplace’.

Gregoire Nitot’s e-mail has been made public by Związkowa Alternatywa, after the businessman sent it to the union’s leadership in response to a suggestion that Krystian Kosowski should have not been sacked, given the fact that he had the right to protection as a leader of union organization. In another statement published later and signed by Nitot as well, Sii Polska’s CEO does not regret anything. He believes that his business came under attack and he is apparently willing to defend every word he wrote to Kosowski and then to his comrades.

Doing so, he is willing to defend a vision of France ruined by trade unions – and his belief that business’ freedom should be unlimited. How about workers’ rights? They are not that important, Nitot overtly suggests. And trade unions are definitely not welcome in his company. Especially that they are often ‘led by extremists’.

– Your behaviour is unacceptable & disgusting – this is how the businessman addresses the trade union organizer. This happens in Europe, in 2022.

Kosowski, in his view, ‘acts against Sii core values’, destroys the company reputation, tries to attack the company and motivates others to do so. ‘It is a shame for Lodz region [Lodz is a city in central Poland] & CC ITO to have recruited a person like you’ – he concludes. In the end, he adds: ‘I am sure you are a troublemaker’.

Let us also quote the words of this French-born Polish businessman (he has been Polish citizen since 2016) when he explains why he is not owning a business in France:

‘Too many trade unions. Too many strike. Too many complaints. Too high work protection. Too high taxes’.

Nitot believes to be just one of the oppressed businesspeople who ran away from this nightmare. In the end, as he claims,

‘there are not much job offers in France (…) Remuneration is low. Unemployment is high. So people are sad at the end in France because of those stupid & egoist trade unions’.

I wonder if French oil workers who went on strike recently would have called their unions ‘stupid & egoist’.

Or all the people who proudly assemble under trade union banners on 1 May and other days. Apparently they have little idea of what is really good and what gives them opportunities. Or they have never participated in a Great Place to Work survey or a department inspiration day. Such measures, Nitot argues, are already in place in Sii Polska, together with appropriate discussions during CEO meet-ups, and that is why no trade unions are needed on board.

But the trade union is alive, Krystian Kosowski is still a legal leader of the organization and he plans to fight in court to be reinstalled at work. – People wishing to join the union keep contacting me – he told us.

People, too, keep commenting the case on social networks. And, in spite of what Gregoire Nitot might have hoped, most of the comments are not favourable for the ‘business without limits’ principle. Instead, people understand perfectly that the law protects trade unionists.

Moreover, as Związkowa Alternatywa points out, undermining trade union activism means undermining the rule of law, as unions are a partner in social dialogue and peaceful resolving of social issues.

For decades, Poland – and the rest of Eastern Europe – has been a reservoir for cheap labour and foreign investment was welcomed. Even if the investor challenged basic workers’ rights in a clear bid to cut the work cost and profit more than in Western Europe or elsewhere. Now there are thousands of workers in Poland recognising the unjustice of such behaviour and ready to organise. Polish workers are no longer shocked by sudden changes implemented in the socialism-to-neoliberalism transition period, and no longer thirsty for any jobs. They feel European and they want a real European integration – the integration that means equal pay.

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Krystian Kosowski has started a collection of funds to cover the legal assistance cost in his, most probably long, fight to be reinstalled at work. You can support him here.

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