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2020.01.13 10:28

Turkish workers and supporters march in Kaunas over fair pay

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Austėja Masiokaitė-Liubinienė, BNS2020.01.13 10:28

Dozens of Kayi Construction workers from Turkey and Lithuanian trade union representatives staged a protest in Kaunas on Saturday to demand fair pay.

The workers have been on strike since late last year. Due to the company’s alleged failure to meet commitments and pay its subcontractors, Kaunas municipality cancelled the contract with Kayi Construction on January 10.

"Kayi Construction has stolen our honor, effort and rights. This situation has also affected our families," one of the construction workers said addressing the crowd on Saturday. His words were translated by one of the Lithuanians who also took part in the protest.

Read more: Turkish construction workers go on hunger strike over unpaid wages in Kaunas

The protest started at the Darius and Girėnas Stadium the Turks were hired to reconstruct. From there, 41 Turkish workers and dozens of representatives of trade unions that support them marched via Laisvės Alėja (Freedom Alley) towards the municipality.

The protesters beat drums, chanted and carried protests saying "workers are more important than the stadium", "a worker is a human, not a tool for your business," and "workers are not slaves and the stadium is not a pyramid".

Turkish workers feel abandoned

Speaking in Russian and English, the Turkish construction workers said their families are in financial difficulties and despite facing calls to leave Lithuania, they will not do so until they receive their pay.

The Turks said they go to the construction site and await work but are not issued tools. The workers also said they live in construction trailers but were not served breakfast on Saturday and were told they would not be catered for.

"They only tell us to return to Turkey […] We have not received any information on what is planned and what we can do," construction worker Ibrahim Bengul said.

The workers said that they are not issued tools to do their jobs, and they were told that their accommodation would no longer be catered for.

Trade unions call for mayor's involvement

After the Turks went on strike, it turned out that they are employed under two contracts. They are paid under the Lithuanian contract signed with Kayi Construction's local branch, and they should also be paid under the second contract with the main company in Turkey.

The company's representatives say the workers are paid under the Lithuanian contract and should return to Turkey to resolve the legal disputes there.

But the trade unions representing them say there are also pay arrears under the Lithuanian contract as well. The employer has also committed other violations, the trade unions say, including unpaid overtime, not issuing contract copies to the workers, as well as failing to properly insure the employees.

Read more: Kaunas cancels contract with Turkish company after workers' strike

Jovita Pretzsch, deputy chair of the Solidarumas trade union, told journalists that since the company that hired them is not bankrupt, the workers have realistic chances of getting paid under Lithuanian laws because they worked here.

They are also planning to turn to the European Trade Union Confederation, she said.

“The strikes do not improve the image of Lithuania as a welfare state,” said Pretzsc, in reference to Nausėda’s election slogan, ‘welfare state’.

"The mayor [of Kaunas] should assume responsibility and should also be standing here with us and resolving the problems. It's very easy to cancel a contract, but what will happen with the people?" she said.

The Turkish company owes between 7,000 and 12,000 euros to each worker, according to Lithuanian trade unions.

A Kayi Construction representative told BNS on Friday the company had reached an agreement with around 20 out of 52 workers on how the arrears would be paid, and 11 of them returned to Turkey last week.