Rautaruukki subcontractor ordered to pay Polish workers thousands of euros in back wages
Finnish Construction Union gets German company to cough up
By Pilvikki Kause
Polish student Michal Suski, 20, would not go to Finland again to work for EUR 350 a month.
That is what was offered to Suski when he and his father and 76 compatriots took on a job to repair the blast furnace of the Rautaruukki steel factory in Raahe.
However, the summer job with the trusted Rautaruukki Subcontractor, the German company Beroa Deutschland, did not go quite as it should have.
“The closest Polish and German supervisors withheld information about wages. Eleven-hour days with no days off, dismantling fixtures in a cramped and hot blast furnace tube were really very hard”, Michal says at home in the village of Nowy Zmigrod in the southeast of Poland.
The distance from the verdant mountain village on the border with Slovakia and Ukraine to Raahe was nearly 3,000 kilometres.
Pleasant houses and lush gardens line the streets.
This remote area would not be as prosperous if people from here did not regularly travel to work at farms in Germany, or at construction sites in the Nordic Countries.
Michal’s father, Wojciech Suski, 47, has been an itinerant worker for seven years, working for Beroa’s Polish subsidiary. The work has taken him to different parts of Poland and Europe.
Suski has worked in Finland four different times. His projects include the construction of the Riihimäki waste processing plant, and in Raahe at the Rautaruukki coking plant, and the blast furnace. Beroa specialises in the construction and repair of smokestacks and blast furnaces.
“We work hard at jobs ranging from concrete reinforcement to assistant work. These are jobs that Finns usually will not do – not at least for the official minimum wage in the field”, Suski says in the family’s living room.
Next to him is his neighbour Ludwik Szymanski, 41, who has often worked in the same places, including Raahe last summer.
The men say that by Polish standards, Beroa pays good wages. The monthly wage of just over EUR 300 was paid out even when there was no work, and on foreign jobs there is the extra bonus of a tax-free per diem.
“The hourly earnings, per diem included, are about EUR 8-9, regardless of whether or not we are in Sardinia in Italy, Kunda in Estonia, or Raahe in Finland.”
This means that on average they have earned EUR 1,700 a month.
In the summer Wojciech took Michal, who is studying forestry, with him to Raahe, because it was hard to find enough people to work on the blast furnace repair job.
Michal says that he signed the contract with Beroa for the Polish minimum wage.
“Dad reassured me that I would earn good money thanks to the per diem.”
However, the first pay day added up to an hourly wage of just three euros, Michal says.
He called home to Poland and asked his younger brother Lucjan, 18, to look up the contact information for the Finnish Metalworkers’ Union. From there the matter moved forward to a union official in Oulu.
The union report showed that Beroa had claimed that it was paying the bricklayers and their assistants about EUR 5,900-6,900 a month, including extras, according to the contract with the Finnish Construction Union. This would mean that the lowest hourly wage was supposed to be more than EUR 15.
Now the men have a copy of a memorandum setting their wages, which was drafted at Beroa’s head offices in Germany.
“We only saw these thanks to the Finnish Construction Union.”
The men say that the practice is quite common. When a subcontractor operates in a country with a higher wage level, it gives the outward impression of paying wages in accordance with local legislation. Then they agree on something quite different with the employees.
The Suskis said that they were severely upbraided at the office of the construction site when it came out that they were the ones behind the complaint. Some of their fellow workers also were angry.
“My friends asked if I would pay their rent if they end up unemployed”, Wojciech says.
The men now have about EUR 5,000 more on their bank account thanks to their getting contract wages.
The Construction Union and Beroa managed to come to an agreement, but not before a walkout by the union workers, and a blockade of the blast furnace job.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 3.10.2011
Finland attracts cheap labour from abroad (9.5.2011)
Strong-arm tactics reported in construction business (30.3.2011)
Foreign workers at nuclear construction site live isolated lives (31.8.2010)
PILVIKKI KAUSE / Helsingin Sanomat