Modern Slavery? Fresco Employees Claim Working Conditions Violated

Employees of the Fresco supermarket chain this week used social media to expose their belief that their rights are being severely violated.

In a post published on Facebook, the Fresco workers say the treatment of Fresco towards its employees can be considered “inhuman” and an example of “modern slavery”. The post then goes on to state that although the Georgian labor code sets the legal working week as a maximum of 48 hours, the Fresco employees say they work for 60 hours and are not paid for the overtime, with a minimum salary of just 400 GEL.

The list of employee complaints moves on to talk of the prohibition of cell-phone use, even during breaks, “cutting them off from the outside world with no possibility to communicate with their family members for 12 hours a day”.

Some salaries are said to have been reduced by 50 percent and in other cases by more than the previously agreed 20 percent, with no clear answer given as to why, though the employees suspect they may be fines and penalties. However, no official documentation has been provided to justify the salary cuts by Fresco management.

The employees also allege that anyproducts returned by customers are then cut in value from their salaries.

Bar codes show different prices when scanned, the employees claim in their Facebook post, misleading the customers.

During the New Year period, the employees say they were made to work 12 hours a day without a break, and instead of being paid the expected 40 GEL overtime, they claim were paid just 18 GEL.

The fines and penalties – from 10 to 100 GEL - placed on the employees are “unfair,” they say, for example, an employee who hangs his coat on a hook instead of in the cupboard will be issued a penalty of 20 GEL. When one of the Fresco branch employees decided to leave in November, they were told their CV would be “black-listed”.

Fresco management are denying all the accusations. “Compared to our competitors, Fresco employees have beneficial working conditions with high salaries, promotion possibilities and free meals,” they stated.

“Fines and penalties are applied as disciplinary sanctions on the employees for violating rules- not coming to work on time, not serving the customers in a good and timely manner, not displaying the product prices correctly, etc.,” Mariam Apridonidze, Marketing and PR representative from Fresco, told news service Tabula, pointing out it is not stated at the time of applying the penalty exactly which rule the employee broke. “Employees are aware which penalties are issued and for what, and know that these amounts will be taken off their salaries.”

Apridonidze outright denied that Fresco employees are forced to work overtime hours, claiming that overtime only happens when mutually agreed beforehand. She went on to refute all other accusations against the company.

Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Maintenance said it would investigate the case and inspect the working conditions in the supermarket chain. Ministry representatives planned to meet both employees and managers and look over the agreements. If labor law violations were found, it said the case would then be sent to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. At the time of going to press, it was announced by Imedi news that Health Minister Sergeenko is claiming no violations were found at Fresco.

Nino Gugunishvili

09 February 2017 21:00