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The dispute between Konstantina Kuneva and her employer reaches the court

05 February 2013 / 19:02:14  GRReporter
3573 reads

Victoria Mindova

The Greek district court in Piraeus has initiated proceedings in the first instance to recognize moral harm by the Oikomet A. E. employing company and for the payment of compensation for an employment accident. The company is responsible for the safety of its employees during the shift, including their travelling to work before and after the shift.

Kuneva was splashed with acid in late 2008. As stated by the testimonies, the attack was preceded by a series of telephone threats against her life and that of her child, if she did not abandon her trade union activities. The Bulgarian woman was general secretary of the union of cleaning ladies at Oikomet A. E., which had undertaken the cleaning of the ISAP city train stations.

The hearing of the case took place in Hall 301 of the court in Piraeus, which is in charge of resolving employment issues. Activists of the youth organization of SYRIZA, members of PAME, supporters of human rights and journalists from Eleftherotipia and Avgi newspapers as well as Kokino radio attended the trial. GRReporter was the only Bulgarian media in the courtroom in Piraeus.

The trial began shortly after ten in the morning. Konstantina Kuneva was presented by defenders Barbara Voltea, Daphne Vaianou and the legal adviser to the trade union of private sector workers (GSEE) Maria Lagouvardou.

Witnesses for the plaintiff were journalist Christina Kopsini from Kathimerini newspaper and Elizabeth Zabeta, who was an employee of the Piraeus union in 2008.

Christina Kopsini appeared as a journalist covering the case of Kuneva from the very beginning. She had carried out her own investigation and she has built a close relationship with the Bulgarian woman. In her testimony, she described Kuneva as a responsible, hardworking and fair person who could not accept the attempts by the company’s management to exploit the workers.

One of the last cases before the attack on Kuneva was associated with the attempts by the company’s management to make the employees sign a salary receipt for 700 euro but to receive 520 euro. Kuneva had strongly objected to this violation. She insisted on the payment of the full amount of the salary as agreed in the contract and sought the workers’ rights from a higher instance of the trade unions.

The testimonies made it clear that the management of the company had wanted to set a break of half an hour during the shifts, which would have reduced its costs and saved it from hazard work allowances. People familiar with the case told GRReporter that the break had been only on paper. The cleaning ladies employed by the company were not only unable to use their break but they had to work more hours than specified in the contract.

Elizabeth Zabeta, to whom Kuneva had turned for help in her attempts to cope legally with the suppression of labour rights by Oikomet A. E., spoke about the severe conditions in the company too.

The company's lawyer, who declined to give her name to our media, wanted to know whether Zabeta could directly associate the attack on Kuneva with Oikomet’s management. Zabeta replied that she had not been present at the time of the attack, but she would not be surprised if it turned out that the company had lied behind the cruel act.

The company not only denies such a scenario, but it also rejects the accusation that there was tension in the company. The wife of the owner of the company Christos Oikonomakis who is in charge of the human resource management appeared as a witness for Oikomet A. E. She tried to belittle Kuneva’s role by stressing that the Bulgarian woman was general secretary of a trade union, which had only 120 members in a company employing 1,500 people throughout Greece. She denied that there had been tension between the workers and the management and insisted that the company had helped the victim with everything possible – it gave 2,500 euro after the accident and retained her job for almost a year after she was splashed with acid.

The defender of the Bulgarian woman Daphne Vaianou explained to the court that the attackers had not only splashed her with acid, but also opened her mouth by force and poured the corrosive liquid into her throat. Kuneva’s face and oesophagus have been almost destroyed. Although she has undergone more than 30 operations, she will not be able to lead a normal life.

The testimonies suggest that once Kuneva had begun receiving threatening phone calls she requested from the management of the company to move her to a daily shift and closer to her house. The only position the company had offered her was in the OSE railway station, whose area was much larger, said the legal advisor to GSEE Maria Lagouvardou. The management of the company had ignored Kuneva’s request, which proved fatal later as stated by the defenders of the Bulgarian woman. The attack took place on the night of 23 December to 24 December 2008 when Kuneva was going home.

The court decision on the case is expected in a few weeks at the earliest. The cost of her treatment has been covered by both the Bulgarian and the Greek governments and by donations from individuals and companies that are committed to the accident. Vaianou told GRReporter, that the treatment of the single mother exceeded 30 thousand euro in 2011 but Kuneva has to undergo more procedures.

Tags: Crime newsKonstantina KunevaAcidAttackGreeceOikomet A. E.
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