LABOURER Jozef Daniš and four of his co-workers won a lower court verdict in a wrongful dismissal case against their former employer, the international paper firm Mondi Business Paper SCP of Ružomberok.
The Ružomberok district court ruled on June 23 that Mondi had failed to prove that the five employees had harmed the company's reputation by allegedly providing false information to the media that Mondi's Ružomberok mill was paying low wages.
The charge of spreading false information, as well as the company's claim that the employees were lobbying for a wildcat strike to be called over wages, had been advanced as cause for the dismissals, which occurred in September 2004.
Mondi, which by press time had not said whether it would appeal, has been ordered to pay the employees nine months' back wages and rehire them. The decision is not yet valid, as both sides requested the verdict be formally provided to them.
"Finally it's over. We've run out of money," Jana Krnčanová, the wife of one of the plaintiffs, told the daily SME.
Daniš said for the media after the verdict that the dismissals had been "intimidating for the rest", and that he had rejected an offer from Mondi SCP to settle out of court. "This was not about money. Can you imagine us accepting such an offer?" he asked.
In an interview with The Slovak Spectator, Otto Pichler, managing director of Mondi Business Paper SCP, said he believed the employees' grievances had roots in their failure to win 2004 elections to a work council representing labourers.
"I think this was somehow the starting point, and because of this disappointment they started to make very populist activities here," he said. "They promised the employees a salary increase of at least Sk50 (€1.3) per hour, which for the lower tariff classes is a 100 percent increase, and for the higher classes a 30 percent rise. On top of that they promised them Sk15,000 (€395) cash in hand, and said if these demands weren't fulfilled they would call for a strike. To be honest, if you give someone a piece of paper and say "sign this and I will double your salary", who will would not sign?
"This was followed by great untruths that were told to the newspapers, one of which was that our average salary here is Sk13,000 (€342)."
Pichler produced figures showing that average monthly blue-collar salaries at the facility had reached Sk22,244 (€585) in 2004, about 50 percent above the Slovak average wage.
"We had to react, with people going around saying how bad we are and that they would call for a strike if we didn't fulfil their unrealistic demands," he said.
Following the victory of landowners against the state over the location of the new KIA auto plant, and the success of the citizens of the Banská Bystrica neighbourhood of Radvaň against the petroleum firm Shell, the Ružomberok decision represents the third court victory by a group of citizens in the last two years in Slovakia.
4. Jul 2005 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson