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On 19 May 2020, a worker from a factory supplying Heigo called the Fair Wear helpline to submit a complaint on unfair dismissals.
The complainant stated that on 29 April 2020 the production manager handed over notices of dismissal to 2 workers - the complainant and one other worker. The reason listed for the dismissals was "reduced volume of work", which according to the Bulgarian legislation means that the jobs have been cut. The worker thinks this is not true, because there is still work related to these jobs. The complainant is also believes that even though the volume of work has reduced, the real reason for the dismissal is a personal attitude towards these two workers. Furthermore, the complainant thinks that the jobs will not be cut, but will be filled by other people. The reason the complainant believes this is because the two workers were threatened with dismissal and replacement with other workers by the production manager. According to the complainant, during this interaction, the production manager used obscene language, shouted and pushed things around.
This incident had been brought to the attention of the chief accountant, who in turn spoke to the financial manager, who discussed it with the factory owner. After this, the owner had talked to the production manager and explained that such behaviour is unacceptable. The production manager's behaviour changed after this. The complainant however believes that she and the other worker are being dismissed because of this and not because their job is being cut.
Fair Wear has asked the brand to further look into the following questions:
- Is the reduction of orders temporary (Covid-19 induced) or permanent, and what is the extent of the reduction (%)
- Were subcontractors affected by this reduction?
- What has the brand done to mitigate the impact?
While the brand researches these questions, a Fair Wear investigation will also be launched.
Information that needs to be collected through the investigation on the factory level:
- How many jobs were cut due to the reduced orders and how was the number of cuts calculated?
- Is this number so big as to represent a collective dismissal and if so, have the national authorities been informed?
- Could the factory provide documents about how it selected workers to be dismissed and did it involve worker representatives in this process?
- Were there any jobs that will be completely abolished (meaning e.g. that there will be no ironers anymore)?
- What did the factory do when it received a complaint about harassment at the workplace?
To gather the necessary information, Fair Wear will conduct interviews with factory management and HR (by telephone), interviews with workers and worker representatives (by phone), document inspection (by email) and the correspondence with the brand, where necessary.
The brand reported that there had been around a 30% decline in the volume of orders and this situation will continue for the coming 12 months. Based on this information, the factory decided to lay-off 8 workers and made an evaluation of 14 workers from whom to select 8 workers.
The evaluation system that was used is not known to either the HR manager or the workers; it was constructed by the Financial and Production managers. The HR manager was not involved in this process. According to Art. 130c of the Bulgarian Labour Code, in case of threat to employment, the employer is obligated to consult and inform the worker representatives, which was not done.
It was not possible to confirm the complainant's opinion that the dismissal was based on a prior complaint she had made to the HR about the Production Manager. This was because the Financial manager announced that he made the proposal if particular workers to be considered for dismissal.
Regarding how the decline of orders had impacted the subcontractors, there was an explanation that subcontractors were informed in advance, in order to be able to find other orders. The factory tried to help the subcontractors with finding other orders.
There are two areas of remediation for this complaint:
1. Whenever there are critical changes affecting the employment or other rights of workers, the employer should consult and infomr worker representatives. It is a good practice to involve the HR manager in all cases concerning employees, especially hiring and dismissals, since the HR manager is the one most acquainted with the local labour laws and regulations and the one who knows the workers best. Workers should be made aware about the evaluation process, if this can be used as input for a potential dismissal and it will allow workers to improve.
2. Rude and aggressive behaviour towards other workers/colleagues cannot be tolerated. It is recommended that the factory carries out a special soft skills training, particularly for all people at positions of authority (and with workers, if feasible). A zero-tolerance attitude towards such behaviour is part of one of the Fair Wear labour standards and if it is not clear enough, but should also have a dedicated policy in the factory.