Bierbaum-Proenen GmbH & Co. KG, Complaint 95

CONCERNING LABOUR STANDARDS
Safe and healthy working conditions Legally binding employment relationship
STATUS
Resolved
DATE
2014-06-10

After a dispute between manager and workers, several female workers were not allowed to work for three days, using an excuse of quality and productivity issues. For one of them work was stopped indefinitely. Above issues were backed up by signed suspension notices that were all dated a few days after the meeting took place and were for relatively light infractions. Since the meeting, workers were also asked to sign only short-term (1-3 month) labour contracts, some after having worked for more than a year without having to sign new contracts.

Findings and conclusions

On June 9 and 10 FWF received a complaint from two workers, working for a factory supplying Bierbaum Proenen.

Allegedly, one day after a FWF audit the Tunisian manager of the factory had a meeting with workers who were interviewed during the audit and questioned them. After a dispute between manager and workers, several female workers were not allowed to work for three days, using an excuse of quality and productivity issues. For one of them work was stopped indefinitely. Above issues were backed up by signed suspension notices that were all dated a few days after the meeting took place and were for relatively light infractions. Since the meeting, workers were also asked to sign only short-term (1-3 month) labour contracts, some after having worked for more than a year without having to sign new contracts.

It seems that the signing of short-term contracts could have been used as a means to control workers and make them scared. Bierbaum-Proenen must address this issue with factory management. An active policy should be installed on appropriate and proportionate disciplinary measures at the factory. During the meeting held on November 25, factory management presented a number of steps the factory will take to prevent similar issues in the future. All workers were allowed to return to work.

FWF planned a verification audit at this factory in 2015 to check the remediation of the complaints. However the factory terminated cooperation with Bierbaum-Proenen mid 2015 which is why the verification audit did not take place.

Overview of the complaint investigation

2015-09-01 Investigation

FWF informed Bierbaum-Proenen about the case. Bierbaum-Proenen contacted factory management and asked for a response.
Factory management provided a response to FWF on July 10 with accompanying documentation.
The FWF complaints handler had contact with the complainants on July 27. On November 25, factory management had a meeting with FWF complaints handler to discuss the complaint and follow-up.

2015-09-01 Conclusion of the investigation

Worker interviews are an integral part of the audit process. Under no circumstances whatsoever should workers feel like they are being punished for having spoken to FWF. This has been made clear to management during a factory visit by Bierbaum-Proenen. Even though management disputes the claim of workers to have been reprimanded for talking to FWF auditors during an on-site audit, workers felt that participation in a FWF audit process had negative consequences for them.
There was indeed a meeting held with all workers and management on May 29, 2014. During this meeting, several workers were indeed suspended. Management claims that interviews during the FWF audit were not discussed, while the two complainants did say this happened.
Management claimed that the suspensions were due to quality and productivity issues. This was backed up by signed suspension notices. These suspension notices, however, were all dated a few days after the meeting took place and were all for a few days.
Furthermore, the suspensions were for relatively light infractions, and workers were not given warnings prior to being suspended and there was no escalation of punishment(s) leading up to the suspensions. Since the meeting, workers were also asked to sign only short-term (1-3 month) labour contracts, some after having worked for more than a year
without having to sign new contracts. In the end, all workers were allowed to return to work.
During the meeting held on November 25th, a number of issues were clarified and the conclusion was that the complaint had more to do with communication problems between workers and management, worker motivation and knowledge on rights and obligations.

2015-09-01 Remediation

The use of short-term labour contracts is an issue for the garment sector in Tunisia. The labour law does allow for short-term contracts, but only in the context of specific types of work (seasonal, etc.). It is a widespread practice, but can be seen as a violation of the labour law, if not in the letter of the law then for sure in the spirit of the law. Furthermore
it is considered by FWF a violation of the FWF Code of Labour Practice standard: Legally-binding employment relationship.
In this case, it seems that the signing of short-term contracts could have been used as a means to control workers and make them scared. This should not be the case. Workers should receive longer term contracts, and move towards permanent contracts after four years. Bierbaum-Proenen must address this issue with factory management.
As shown by the suspensions of workers for relatively light infractions, there is no active policy in place on appropriate and proportionate disciplinary measures at the factory. This needs to be instated by the factory to prevent similar issues from taking place.
During the meeting held on November 25, factory management presented a number of steps the factory will take to prevent similar issues in the future. These include:
- Recruiting an HR officer who will deal directly with workers and their issues;
- Ensuring the formation of a (legally obligated) company consultative committee (CCC) according to legislation;
- Installing a suggestion box that will be checked regularly and the
complaints/proposals will also be followed up on;
- Installing a canteen in the workwear production location.
FWF is pleased that the factory has proposed these steps. Bierbaum-Proenen and the factory together must ensure that these steps are also implemented along with the remediation points mentioned before.

2015-09-01 Verification

FWF planned a verification audit at this factory in 2015 to check the remediation of the complaints. However the factory terminated cooperation with Bierbaum-Proenen mid 2015 which is why the verification audit did not take place.

2015-09-01 Evaluation of the complaint

All workers, including the first complainant, were ultimately allowed to return to work.

2015-09-01 Resolved

This complaint is resolved.