Sunday 20 December 2009

Strange Method in JWC Campaign

The campaign with immigrant workers from JWC Construction is on hold since there is nobody working there right now. It seems that a couple of years ago they started the groundwork for 4 construction sites which were all completed this summer. Then the crisis hit and not only did people have less money, but also banks didn't want to lend large amounts for mortgages. The result: a lot of flats that haven't been sold yet. During the winter, there is a break with construction and nobody is working with them. It is unclear whether they will start new construction in the spring. The campaign concentrated on that company naturally depends on that.

The campaign started as a result of a strike of Chinese workers in Warsaw over the summer. ZSP helped out in this case. The main idea was to encourage organizing and provide support if needed to the immigrant workers should something go wrong on these construction sites. Most foreign workers in similar situations have trouble knowing what their rights are in Poland and trouble fighting if, for example, they are not paid. Not getting paid is an endemic problem on construction sites.

Part of the idea of ZSP, which made a protest at JWC and leafletting numerous times at their sales offices, was to tell potential buyers that they don't want to live in a former work camp. Since it was thought that this might not be enough to convince some people not to buy a flat with JWC, there was also a campaign reminding people that JWC was, a couple of years ago, found guilty of violating consumer rights by putting illegal clauses into their sales contracts. ZSP is informing people of their rights in this aspect as well. Shortly after this campaign started, somebody went  to the Office of Consumer Protection, which issued a binding restraining order on the company once again. It published a new list of illegal clauses used by JWC. The Court of Consumer Protection also gave the company a big fine.

The result of these decisions by the Office of Consumer Protection means that consumers who signed contracts with certain clauses may withdraw from these contracts without the usual penalties; the notion of severability will not apply. JWC answered by trying a new trick which will also result for sure in a new decision and fine against them: to try and convince buyers to sign annexes which forbid them from breaking their contracts. This is also going to be considered illegal but the firm is probably hoping that some consumers won't find out about it and will refrain from this.

But usually deciding to withdraw from a purchase agreement is a result of paying a deposit, but then either not getting a loan or losing a job and not being able to afford it. As one can imagine, in these times, many people find themselves in such a situation. And then they find not only do they have problems getting their deposit back (usually this is in the range of 15,000 -30,000 euros), but the company wants to get them for breach of contract.

Already people have approached ZSP in this matter. It is not clear, except in one case, for us that the situations with the workers is the main or even strong motivation for these actions; we understand that these are people who simply lost their jobs and won't be able to buy a flat. One couple came to us from the tenant's movement because they have housing problems as a result of neither being able to afford a flat now, nor being able to get public housing.

Now we are helping in one case and there will probably we a couple of others who will take the same steps. Since there is a decision already from the Office of Consumer Protection, the company should return this money. Today's flat is worth almost 200,000 euros. We figure that in the next couple of months, people who contacted us and with withdraw from their contracts will cost JWC at least 1 million euros. 

Will this help the workers eventually? We don't know this, but we know that this company, which is a huge player on the construction market (traditionally the largest in flat construction) is currently not selling so many flats that they won't feel one million euros. And they know that this campaign with the consumers is made to put pressure on them to take respsonsibility for the subcontracting firms working on their sites, to ensure that all workers have decent working conditions, proper safety equipment and are paid their salaries on time and in full.

Will this make an impression on the company? Hope so.

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