Slovakia

When one does a hard job, they should be paid, not work like a mule for a few scraps

The reported unemployment rate in the Žilina region is 6 percent, which is below the average for Slovakia. We assumed it would be easy to locate workers willing to be interviewed. We were wrong. As a result, we compiled this report out of three interviews with employees of three different companies based in this region.

Our cycle of social reports in the Žilina region is coming to a close. The reported unemployment rate in this region is 6 percent, which is below the average for Slovakia (according to data from April 2017). This places Žilina in a sort of semiperiphery between the developed regions like Bratislava, Trnava, Nitra and the areas affected by high unemployment in central and Eastern Slovakia. This region has caught new breath with the arrival of foreign investors who made it a center of automobile industry, which is why we attempted to approach the workers of an automobile plant near Žilina. Based on past experiences, we assumed it would be easy to locate workers willing to be interviewed. We were wrong. As a result, we compiled this report out of three interviews with employees of three different companies based in this region.

The company whose workers we initially intended to interview is located on a side road one and a half kilometers from the nearest township. The area further lacks services of any kind, shops or accommodation and thus does not allow the workers to socialize, build relationships or simply hang out. There is nothing but a massive parking lot for the employees and a very modern bus stop of the like not often seen even in cities. When shifts change, for a few minutes the place comes alive with hundreds of workers that disembark from around twenty buses (that bring workers in from all over the region). Potential respondents move in large groups, with only a few employees having enough time to smoke a cigarette before their shift starts.

I must be happy at work. There is no way to get a job anywhere else.

Despite the low chance of reaching an interaction with the workers, we eventually managed to speak to a worker willing to communicate, only to find out this was her first day on the job. The 51 years old respondent started working in pre-assembly, where she will work seven and a half hours a day in three shifts. We then used the interview to question her on the workplace conditions at her previous job – in a factory producing shelves and mailboxes near Kysuce.

What made you change your job?

The previous job involved hard work and paid less.

What part of the job was hard?

Some of those boxes were twice my height; when I lifted one it bent me backwards.

We were putting bookshelves into boxes and some of those pieces were twice my height; when I lifted one it bent me backwards. It was a really straining job for women, I could not feel my hands, had to apply ointments to them every evening. There were also high quotas which were impossible to meet and the company refused to increase our wages, the only thing they did was give us some more meal tickets. But one has to keep in mind that what people need is to provide for their pension, not six Euros worth of a meal ticket.

Do you think this job will be less exhausting and better paid?

From what I have seen today, it felt a lot simpler. Besides, in the previous job, I made 420 Euros net per month – here it is 590 plus bonuses for night shifts and so on. It should be a lot better here.

What does work mean for you? What do you think is most important in order for you to feel content at your job?

The people I work with are important, but the main thing is money. That is what it is all about: not literally working like a mule for a few scraps. When one works hard, it should be paid for accordingly.

***

It is staggering to find out that these days there are still women who have to work this hard. In the case of our respondent the work has even affected her health – one can assume the physical exhaustion, health complications, and the prospect of better wages for less demanding work were the primary reasons for her changing her job.

Our second respondent is not a part of the manufacturing process himself, but we included him in the report because his answers offer an interesting comparison with the situation in the car assembly plant. The interviewee is 50 years old and works at technical building services where he is responsible for maintenance. He works seven and a half hours a day in three shifts.

Are there trade unions at your workplace?

Yes, there are unions. I myself have not had the reason to complain yet, but I know that when something does come up, they deal with it straight away. Every department has rooms set up for the workers to bring in their complaints, where they write them up and deal with them.

What does your job mean for you? Are you happy in it?

I enjoy my job, you could say it is my hobby as well. I am content with the pay as well.

What kind of social life does your job allow for? Can you make ends meet with your wages or do you have to resort to a second job?

There is a lot of options for social life.

As far as work is concerned, the job I have is quite enough. The company provides a bonus intended for vacations and the use of recreational facilities for employees and their children, so there is a lot of options for social life.

Could you say something about the strikes that took place in your company? Or describe the workplace conditions?

The workplace conditions are really good, but I fully agree with the strike. The people deserve what they had to fight for – I am not in manufacturing myself but I see the way they work. But I want to stress their workplace conditions are really good. There is a raise every year.

***

The respondent is empathic towards the workers in manufacturing and realizes the necessity of strikes, but he considers the workplace conditions, the company’s social policy and pay more than sufficient. Due to the difficulty of his job and level of his wages not being comparable to the ones in manufacturing, he views the work in this company from a completely different angle. Furthermore, he considers his job his hobby.

The third respondent is 46 years old and works in manufacturing in a company that makes car parts. He does not consider his job difficult, works seven and a half hours a day in two shifts.

No work, no bread. I know what that means.

Could you describe your workplace? The conditions, the atmosphere, the way your superiors check on you, the communication with them?

In my position it is a bit more relaxed. I do not work with the assembly line so I can take a break to go wash my hands, for example. But there are jobs where you have to stand there until someone comes to replace you.

Are there trade unions at your workplace?

I know that they exist. Currently I work through an agency so I do not know whether they function or not.

Are you content with your job?

I am content with the job, but not with the pay.

What does your work mean to you?

Purely a means of survival.

What kind of social life does your job allow for? Can you make ends meet with your wages or do you have to resort to a second job?

I have worked abroad for some time and I did not come back until very recently so I cannot really tell yet. Being single, I find the money quite enough but I cannot imagine living on it if I had a family.

Could you describe working abroad and in Slovakia?

Abroad one makes three times the money for three times less work.

Yeah. Abroad, one makes three times the money for three times less work.

What do you think was the best part of your life? Was the work any easier, were you happier?

Definitely the time I spent working in Austria.

Volkswagen Slovakia Paralysed By Great Strike For Higher Wages

What part of your job would you like to see improved?

I wish the management did not see us just as robots and paid better. There is enough leisure time, cannot complain about that – there are no compulsory weekend shifts or overtime, it is all voluntary. Occasionally there is a worker shortage, so we must stand in on the weekend or at night, but that happens only rarely.

***

The prevalent impression this respondent and his answers gave us was apathy. He is disappointed he had to return from abroad for personal reasons and that he only managed to find a job that merely covers the basic costs of living.

In spite of the fact the Žilina region is not as advantageously located as Trnava, Bratislava or Nitra, it keeps unemployment at a reasonably low level compared to the rest of Slovakia. It needs to be kept in mind, however, that this does not reflect on the level of content and on whether workers in manufacturing can make a living with their wages.

Although the individual reports hold plenty of interest on their own, the really interesting results are revealed when the statements of workers across the regions are put into comparison with one another. Because of that, we intend with another article which analyzes the chosen variables and reflects on the project in a more complex way.

***
Featured photo courtesy of Vratislav Darmek.

Bio

Jana Sivičeková

She is PhD student at the Institute of Political Science of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, and is collaborator and author with POLE.

Michael Augustín

Michael Augustín is a political scientist and PhD student at the Institute of Political Science of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of politiquefrance.sk, writer and editor of the blog POLE.