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Banquet (Greece): restaurant workers self-organize

category greece / turkey / cyprus | workplace struggles | news report author Monday May 17, 2010 16:37author by @ Report this post to the editors

WORKERS UNITE

Banquet is a restaurant in Greece with very bad working conditions that leaves its workers unpaid and recently fired a worker for no reason. But the workers are getting organized...

banquet_2.jpg

On Monday 5 April 2010 Vangelis Kitsonis, a worker of 6 months at the Banquet restaurant (legal name: Coffee Shop EPE/Ltd.) at Dimitriou Gounari Str 7 in Thesaloniki, Greece called his boss to ask about his time schedule. She said: "you aren't in the time schedule, give us back your work uniform". The worker asked whether he is getting fired, but the boss didn't explain.

Many of Banquet workers are immigrants and according to them the working conditions are very bad. The restaurant owners don't seem to care about the labour law. They don't provide the full obligatory health insurance and the payment is very low and doesn't conform to the agreements of restaurant owners with the restaurant workers' assembly. Many new workers (who are hired a year after they ask for a job) have to work without payment for a week or two, but at the end of the second week they are told they aren't going to be hired. The owners keep even the tips given to the workers by the clients, which adds up to 400-500 Euro daily. The workers have to work six days a week and they aren't given food at work.

What's more, the bosses have installed cameras inside the restaurant tracking the workers, who are also required to pay for any mistakes they do or in case they don't go to work on time. Other legal payments, such as the Christmas' gift, are not given at all or they give only a portion.

The workers asked for the March payment but the bosses weren't giving it, just as they didn't pay them other money required by law, so it was time for action. Two workers broke the silence, but they weren't included in the next week's time schedule. These workers were not officially hired, so they were vulnerable, but they decided to keep fighting.

One of the fired workers is a member of a restaurant workers' syndicate, so he took his complaints to the labour authorities of Greece.

In general, the working conditions of restaurant workers in Greece are very bad. In the last 20 years this industry was the victim of extreme neoliberal policies directed against the workers by all governments (ND=conservatives, PASOK=socialists). In this way, the restaurant bossess can ignore the labour laws. All restaurant workers are terrorized and many have to work without being officially hired. The pay is very low and the owners demand even the clients' tips. The workers have to go to work whenever they are needed and they don't have stable work. There are about 880,000 restaurant workers in Greece but only 200,000 are officially registered by the state health insurance office. This means 650,000 workers have no health insurance, so 70% of the restaurant workers in Greece work in the "black economy", outside the official government statistics. And all that because of the bosses' greed.

A workers' assembly decided to take direct action and protested outside the Banquet restaurant but also outside the state labour offices in April 2010. http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_...56627

Many other assemblies and students' associations decided to support the action. On 23 April 2010 about 60 persons protested outside the restaurant and blocked its entrance. Texts were read and more people joined them, so they added up to about 100. Walkers-by asked what happened and supported the protesters by joining them. One of the bosses was inside and started screaming, and another said lies (that the fired worker was a temporary worker etc). The boss tried to take photographs of the protesters' faces, but he quickly realized this was a bad idea for him. Clients who were eating inside saw the protest and decided to leave the restaurant. Then some syndalists entered the shop and informed the workers inside about the situation. The protest ended successfully later at 12pm. http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_...57365

The action was supported by a teachers' syndicate as well and together with the restaurant workers' assembly they report that other restaurants, like Achilion, as well as many hotels and other similar businesses also do the same things. http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_...57421

Then on 24 April 2010 another action was taken, now with massive mobilization thanks to a combined protest against both the Banquet restaurant and the prospect of IMF involvement in Greece's public debt. As a result, about 1,000 persons gathered and protested outside the Banquet restaurant and the nearby park. This time some riot police cops were already protecting the restaurant. Passers-by and common people supported the protests. Representatives of the workers' assemblies entered the restaurant and spoke with the boss, who saw the huge protest outside and asked for it to go elsewhere. But the people weren't going anywhere. They were staying there, protesting and demanding for the fired worker to be hired again. The boss conceded and signed a document agreeing to hire the fired worker, Vangelis Kitsonis, again, and also to pay him what is owed to him and also to hire legally all the workers with full payment. He also agreed to let the workers share the clients' tips (until now they were taken by the boss). the assembly' representatives went outside and announced the agreement to the protestors who cheered and felt happy. The protest was ended and the workers' assembly will make sure to watch for the implementation of the agreement.

It's important to add that when the workers' assembly was formed it asked for support by the official restaurant workers syndicate but it received no other support than a symbolic announcement. The official syndicate is controlled by PAME, which is an syndicalist organization associated with the KKE communist party.

The demands of the workers were:

1) to re-hire the fired worker, Vangelis Kitsonis following properly all the laws
2) All workers who aren't legally fully hired to be hired normally according to the law
3) All payments required by law to be given to the workers
4) Tips given by the clients to be shared among the workers
5) As the law requires, the restaurant workers should be given food to eat at work
6) All laws and the agreements between the syndicates and the restaurant owners should be followed

At first, before the 1,000-strong protest outside his restaurant, the boss said he agreed with everything but he didn't want to re-hire Vangelis Kitsonis. The workers' representatives said they demanded his re-hire and they said they were going to continue with bigger protests. The boss said he could agree to re-hire the fired worker as a part-time worker instead. But the workers' demand was for full employment. Then the next day 1,000 persons gathered outside the restaurant and seeing this the boss agreed to all the demands. The workers' representatives told him he would have to implement the agreement immediately or face more protests. http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_...58948

This was the case were a worker was fired for political reasons and the workers self-organized to defend him and requrest proper pay and work regimes as required by law.

On 1 May 2010 Vangelis Kitsonis spoke to the self-organized 1431am radio station ( http://www.1431am.org/ ) together with Thomas Sounapoglou who takes parts in various workers' struggles. The programme can be listened to at http://www.1431am.org/audio/gia-ena-machimo-ergatiko-ki...-2010

The 1 May protests in Thessaloniki also gathered outside the Banquet restaurant with 1,000 persons initially and later 1,500 persons. http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_...61486

But on 3 May the Banquet restaurant boss decided not to keep his promises and sent a letter (exodiko, similar to cease-and-desist) through their lawyer to Vangelis Kitsonis and claimed that the worker himself asked to work without health insurance (!), that the bosses accepted the worker for humanitarian reasons (!!), and that the 1,000-strong mobilization outside the restaurant made the children of the restaurant's clients to cry (!!!). In response, the workers pre-announced new mobilizations on 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 May. The lawyers' letter can be found in full at http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_...62681

The workers' assembly continues its struggle to this day (17 May). On 14 May four Banquet workers gave a talk to the assembly saying that their struggle is a general workers' struggle and it's not only about the Banquet workers. New mobilizations and protests were announced for 14, 15, and 16 May.

But on 14 May when the workers went to a protest outside Banquet, the restaurant owners were there together with lawyers and threatened legal action against the protestors. Then the owner didn't accept to talk with Vangelis Kitsonis but the workers said they weren't going to negotiate without Vangelis Kitsonis. To this, the owner responded that he would shut down his restaurant and he would notify all his workers not to come to work for an unspecified period. According to the law, the owner has to pay the workers even if the business isn't open. The workers described these threats as a lock-out and report that the business had very high profits lately. The workers remained united and say they will either starve together or earn their lawful demands together. The workers have not been paid in the 15 days before 14 May, so to sustain their struggle during the threatened lock-out they will accept solidarity donations at a music concert. They say they will continue their mobilizations and will make a press release. https://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article...70024

By 17 May 2010 the workers at Banquet restaurant are still unpaid, so they will seek to demand their pay through the state's labour office. They will also seek to learn whether the owners maintain other shops or businesses. A press release will be made on 18 May, and later on the same day there will be a new protest. A new music concert will be organized on 20 May, and the still-unpaid workers accept solidarity donations for their struggle. https://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article...70605

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