Spinneys Management Steps Up violation of Freedoms:
After Violating Employees’ Freedom of Forming a Union, Spinneys CEO Now Violates Citizens’ Freedom of Opinion and Speech
For those who are not familiar with the Spinneys case, or those who lost track of events over the past year, or those who were strayed by the misinformation campaign led by Michael Wright Spinneys CEO (Spinneys’ supermarket chain in Lebanon currently majority-owned by Dubai private equity firm “Abraaj Group” (formerly known as “Abraaj Capital”), or those who were blinded with advertising and promotional offers, or those who believed in the rightfulness of the cause and stood up and fought the battle, here is a brief recapitulation of what this true struggle for civil freedoms, rights and dignity is all about.
At first, the establishment of the Workers union was triggered by the non-enforcement of wage correction decree and the absence of social protection for hundreds of workers.
However, the violations committed by Spinneys CEO Michael Wright against the trade union soon transformed the unionists’ struggle in a struggle for their fundamental freedom of association guaranteed in Article 13 of the Lebanese Constitution, in UN Charts and in International Labour Organization Principles and Convention.
Indeed, many who joined the union, and particularly its leadership, paid a high price for their audacity in demanding the company comply with the law.
ورد في الرسالة الموجهة بتاريخ 31 آب 2012 من مكتب الأنشطة العمالية في منظمة العمل الدولية إلى أعضاء اللجنة التأسيسية لنقابة عمال سبينيس ما حرفيته “أن مكتب الشؤون العمالية يعبر عن أسفه لاستمرار مؤسسة سبينيس في انتهاكاتها للحقوق والحريات النقابية، كما يشجب كل عمليات الترهيب والتخويف وحجز الحريات بما في ذلك الاستخدام غير المشروع للوسائل القمعية والبوليسية في قمع الحريات النقابية”
Terror Strategy and Violations of Employees’ Freedom of Forming a Union:
- Dismissal of union founders: Samir Tawk organized a petition and was dismissed shortly thereafter. The leader of the union’s founding committee Milad Barakat, committee member Elie Abi Hanna were also fired.
- Physical assault on unionists: Mkhayber Habchi became a founding member of the workers union, and was attacked and beaten shortly thereafter in the Spinneys parking lot during work hours without any reaction by the Spinneys administration.
- Intimidation squad: Mobilization and organization of a squad of “Loyal employees” to intimidate unionists and paralyze their work. On November 18, 2012, in an action to disturb the smooth running of the union elections, the Spinneys administration hired buses to transport workers (again under threat of punishment) to stage a demonstration in front of the place where the elections were taking place. The workers were hailing the name of Michael Wright and shouting angrily against the unionized workers calling for their punishment, and even threatening them.
- Internal investigation and detention: Milad Barakat is held in “detention” forced to sign resignation. After he refuses he is arrested by security forces and dragged to investigation.
- Threats of dismissal: Many unionists recieved direct threats that they would lose their jobs.
- Punitive modification of work conditions: The Spinneys management carried out retaliatory actions against unionists, transferring several people from their place of work to other branches, far away from their homes.
- Isolation of unionists: Spinneys management secluded unionists in jobs which did not allow any contact with other workers at the company.
- Forced declination of rights to join the union: 700 workers forced to sign a statement to the Ministry of Labor affirming their rejection of the new union and attesting to the company’s generosity.
- Coerced withdrawal from union: workers who were forced to sign waiver documents or forced to withdraw their union membership or even their candidacy to the union council.
- Intimidation of potential unionists: Intimidate workers from signing adhesions to union which required they open offices outside the branches to register affiliations
- Forced declination of rights to wage increase: Employees were coerced into signing waivers expressly relinquishing their right to the wage increase, a right that belongs to them by virtue of the law.
- Political pressure: The influence of local leadership was employed to spread fear among the workers, with threats that these leaders would withdraw their protection and security. In addition, attempts to use of political figures to put pressure on the regulatory departments to turn a blind eye to violations of company.
As if that wasn’t enough, and in the absence of governmental or judicial action to force Micheal Wright into abiding by national and international laws and respect civil freedoms, Wright coupled his abusive behavior against Spinneys employees with a systematic campaign to against journalists, activists and advocates of human rights in violation of the freedom of expression.
Terror Strategy and Violations of Citizens’ Freedom of Expression
Lebanese Constitution: Freedom of expression is a fundamental right
المادة 13 من الدستور كرست أن “حرية إبداء الرأي قولا وكتابة وحرية الطباعة وحرية تأليف الجمعيات (ومنها طبعا النقابات) كلها مكفولة ضمن دائرة القانون
- Online spying and monitoring of social media activity: Activists start receiving messages on Facebook after “liking” or sharing posts on Facebook. Get ready, you might be receiving one soon J
- Prevent the distribution newspapers: Al Akhbar newspaper is retrieved from sale in Spinneys stores, for having published articles on management violations.
- Silencing the media: Withholding advertising budgets in the media to fend off criticism or promote management. On February 24, 2013, OTV’s director Roy el Hashem sends an internal memo to journalists upon hosting of Charbel Nahas in “Hiwar al Yawm” talk show where the latter revealed Spinneys violations. A week later, OTV broadcasts a 3 minute documentary in the evening news bulletin describing Spinneys “charitable and socially responsible actions”, as an “apology”. On March 11, 2013, while hosting Charbel Nahas and other guests in “Bimawdou3iyya” talk show, MTV receives a live call from Michael Wright requesting (and not receiving) air time to respond to Charbel Nahas. On April 10, 2013, while hosting Charbel Nahas in “Al Fasad” talk show on Al Jadeed, Ghada Eid receives “live’ a letter from Spinneys CEO defending the image of Spinneys, in a purely “preventive” measure since the show hadn’t mentioned the Spinneys issue.
- Silencing activists: Pressure on employers to silent and expel activists and bloggers: Abir Ghattas receives a warning from her employer Mindshareand was forced to delete posts on her blog. Micheal Wright contacts ZN employers requesting her to stop posting on Spinneys.
- Defamation of unionists and activists: Lawyer Nizar Saghiyeh, former Minister of Labour Charbel Nahas and journalists Hassan Chakrani and Mohammad Zbeeb, as well as founding members of the union are described “politically driven” or “fraudulent” or “liars” by Michael Wright in massive messaging to the wide audience on Facebook and in press releases via regular media.
- Legal actions against activists: Abir Ghattas is taken for investigation on allegations of slander and later forced to delete her blog post “Michael Wright CEO no More” on abirghattas.com. ZN is taken for investigation on allegations of slander for posting awareness material on Facebook. Both activists were forced to sign a pledge not to mention Spinneys again in clear contradiction with freedom of expression.
- Trial against Charbel Nahas: In the latest development, Charbel Nahas will be attending the first hearing in a trial on 8 May based on allegations of slander notably for describing Michael Wright actions as “terrorist” actions.
- International Labor Organization’s in Geneva issues a statement condemning the “terrorizing” behavior of Micheal Wright, urging him to cease all abusive conduct:
- UNI Global Union issues a solidarity message to Spinneys union in light of Michael Wright’s violations
Lebanese judicial ruling
- Summary applications judge Zalfa el Hassan forbids the company to dismiss any founding member of the union until the union obtained its permit from the Ministry of Labor, thereby admitting that the dismissals were attempts by the company to sabotage the creation of the union
- Judge Dia Mcheimich confirms the validity of article 329 of “Code Penal” to the case opened by former employees against Spinneys management. Article 329 punishes by imprisonment of one month to one year, every action that impedes with the Lebanese citizens in the exercise of his rights and civic duties.
- Administrative reports from the Ministry of Labor (the initial inspection, the minutes of meetings of the election, the last inspection)
- Social Security inspectors reports