Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Michael Wright

Supermarket Spinneys affairs: A vaster syndicate fight in Lebanon…

Marisol RIFAI published this Nov. 2, 2013 in the French Lebanese daily Orient Le Jour.com

L’affaire Spinneys, enjeu d’une lutte syndicale plus vaste

LIBAN – JUSTICE Intimidations, licenciements abusifs, pressions sur les médias et les réseaux sociaux…

Depuis mars 2012, les accusations contre les méthodes et décisions appliquées par la chaîne de supermarchés Spinneys à l’encontre de ses employés se multiplient. Mais au-delà du cas particulier, c’est l’avenir des luttes syndicales qui est aujourd’hui en jeu.

« La diffamation est un droit quand elle relève du devoir citoyen. »

C’est sous ce slogan que plus d’un millier de personnes ont rejoint la page Facebook de soutien à l’ancien ministre du Travail Charbel Nahas.

Il comparaissait mercredi pour la deuxième fois devant un tribunal, pour diffamation. Il est accusé par la chaîne de supermarchés Spinneys d’avoir qualifié les pratiques du directeur exécutif de Spinneys Michael Wright à l’encontre de ses employés de « terroristes », ainsi que d’avoir jugé ces pratiques-là comme « méprisantes » vis-à-vis de la justice libanaise.

« Une plaidoirie est prévue le 11 décembre prochain au cours de laquelle des témoins seront présents et les preuves des méthodes “terroristes” apportées », indique à L’Orient-Le Jour l’avocat de M. Nahas, Nizar Saghieh.

Mais dans « l’affaire Spinneys », le cas de M. Nahas, bien qu’il soit le plus médiatisé, fait partie d’une longue série de procès intentés par et contre Spinneys où se joue l’avenir des droits civils, salariaux et syndicaux au Liban.

Rappel des principaux faits
L’affaire remonte au printemps 2012. La chaîne de supermarchés Spinneys, détenue majoritairement par le fonds saoudien Abraaj Capital, emploie quelque 1,500 personnes au Liban, avec des statuts très différents.

Parmi eux, des employés administratifs, mais aussi des caissiers considérés comme travailleurs temporaires et payés à l’heure ou encore des porteurs de sacs qui ne perçoivent aucun salaire à l’exception des pourboires et ne sont pas inscrits à la Caisse nationale de Sécurité sociale (CNSS).

« Tous ces travailleurs auraient normalement dû percevoir la hausse salariale pour le secteur privé », souligne Nizar Saghieh.

Cette hausse, la première depuis seize ans, avait été votée en février 2012 par le Parlement.

Trois mois plus tard, une centaine de salariés adressent une pétition à la direction de la société, pour protester contre la non-application de cette hausse des salaires.

« Des pressions et intimidations de toutes sortes ne tardent pas à s’abattre sur les signataires de cette pétition », raconte Nizar Saghieh.

Samir Tawk, l’un des employés à l’origine de la pétition, est muté du jour au lendemain de Dbayé à Saïda. « Cette pratique est une des méthodes employées par Spinneys pour pousser une personne à la démission en l’éloignant géographiquement de son lieu de résidence », explique l’avocat.

Contacté par L’Orient-Le Jour, M. Wright dément cette version des faits. « L’employé en question a été transféré pour prêter main-forte aux équipes de Saïda pendant le seul mois du ramadan, une pratique courante dans notre entreprise », souligne-t-il.

M. Tawk quant à lui, a répliqué qu’il a été averti la veille de son transfert et que Spinneys a refusé d’augmenter ses indemnités de transport.

La formation du syndicat, pierre d’achoppement de la bataille
Face à ce climat de tensions, beaucoup d’employés finissent par abandonner leurs revendications, « car forcés par la direction à revenir sur la signature de la pétition », selon M. Tawk.

Mais quelques obstinés s’accrochent et c’est alors que débute une longue bataille pour la création d’un syndicat propre aux travailleurs de Spinneys.

« Les pressions s’accentuent et, en août, une nouvelle fois, des centaines d’employés sont forcés par la direction de Spinneys à signer un document attestant leur retrait du syndicat et l’un des membres fondateurs du syndicat, Milad Barakat, est licencié », poursuit Nizar Saghieh.

Pour Michael Wright, la pétition n’est pas justifiée, « puisque nous avons appliqué la majoration salariale à partir de février à tous les employés payés au salaire minimum ».

Pour les autres, qui touchent plus, la compagnie adresse une requête au ministère du Travail, demandant une permission pour modifier la méthodologie prévue par la loi pour la majoration des salaires.

« La réponse du ministère nous demande de nous en tenir à la loi et c’est ce que nous avons immédiatement fait », clame M. Wright.

Ainsi, le directeur exécutif de Spinneys explique la raison de la colère des employés à l’initiative du syndicat par une « politisation de la part de l’ancien ministre du Travail Charbel Nahas ».

« Se rendant compte qu’ils avaient été floués sur les véritables cause de la création du syndicat, les membres se sont retirés de leur propre gré », poursuit M. Wright. Il soutient ainsi que « plus aucun membre du syndicat n’est à ce jour employé à Spinneys ».

« Normal, rétorque l’ex-employé Samir Tawk, ceux qui n’ont pas retiré leur candidature ont été renvoyés ! »

Plusieurs rappels à l’ordre
Face à cette situation, la juge des référés de Beyrouth, Zalfa el-Hassan, publie une décision qui empêche la société de licencier tout membre fondateur du syndicat des employés de la chaîne jusqu’à ce que le ministère du Travail approuve officiellement la formation de ce syndicat.

« Quelques jours auparavant déjà, l’Organisation internationale du travail (OIT) avait adressé un avertissement à Spinneys concernant ses pratiques et la CNSS avait effectivement constaté que des centaines d’employés n’étaient pas inscrits à la Sécurité sociale, ce qui représente un manque à gagner pour l’État se comptant en millions de dollars », indique Nizar Saghieh.

Pour l’avocate Mirelle Najm-Checrallah, membre du barreau de Beyrouth, il est très difficile pour des travailleurs libanais de tenir tête à des employeurs malveillants.

« En ce qui concerne la non-application de la majoration des salaires, par exemple, les employés peuvent recourir au Conseil arbitral du travail, mais ils ne le font généralement que dans le cas où ils sont licenciés, de peur de perdre leur emploi », explique-t-elle. Quant à la liberté de constituer un syndicat, celle-ci est soumise à l’autorisation du ministère du Travail, sur avis du ministère de l’Intérieur.

« Cette ingérence de l’État a été dénoncée maintes fois et elle est contraire au principe de la liberté syndicale consacrée par l’OIT », rappelle l’avocate.

Une bataille qui dépasse le cas particulier de Spinneys
Pour Nizar Saghieh, qui est également l’avocat des syndicalistes de Spinneys et le directeur exécutif du Legal Agenda, « le cas de Spinneys n’est malheureusement pas isolé, mais il a pris de l’ampleur à cause des méthodes particulièrement violentes utilisées pour faire face à la fronde salariale ».

« Le cas de Spinneys est seulement la partie émergée de l’iceberg qui dévoile au grand jour la réalité des relations entre employés et employeurs au Liban », regrette Nizar Saghieh.

Selon lui, le problème au Liban est qu’il n’existe pas de véritables luttes syndicales, « car les syndicats ne sont pas indépendants, ils sont créés par le haut et répondent à des intérêts pas toujours compatibles avec ceux des travailleurs ».

À ce jour, une dizaine de plaintes ont été déposées devant les prudhommes et au pénal « où nous invoquons l’article 329 du code pénal qui prévoit que “constitue un délit le fait d’interdire à tout citoyen d’exercer son droit civil” », rappelle l’avocat.

« Notre objectif dans l’affaire de Spinneys est de faire pression sur l’État pour ratifier la convention 87 relative à la liberté syndicale, de produire une jurisprudence susceptible de protéger le droit syndical et, plus largement, de promouvoir un État de droit et de justice sociale, loin des clivages confessionnels qui sacrifient les droits sociaux », conclu Nizar Saghieh.

Pour mémoire

Vers un printemps syndical ?

Le syndicat des employés de Spinneys menace de recourir à l’escalade

Why Michael Wright feels this urge to terrorize the Lebanese workers?

To those who don’t know: Michael Wright is ostensibly the CEO of the supermarket chain Spinneys.

In truth, however, he is the spearhead of an entire system dedicated to terrorizing the Lebanese people and driving them to despair.

This system seeks, persistently and consistently, to force the Lebanese to forfeit not only their rights, but also the mere idea of demanding them

Charbel Nahas Published in the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar this December 12, 2013

Thank You, Michael Wright!

Michael Wright is the man who forced hundreds of employees to send out the same stylized letter – spontaneously, of course – in which they absolved him of his obligations and waived their rights to the mandatory wage hikes granted under the Wage Correction Decree.

Michael Wright is the man who failed to declare 502 of his employees to Social Security, as established by the Inspectorate of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), having instead registered them as “contractors.”

Thank you Michael for proving, clearly and remarkably, that you have been using your company’s financial assets to buy and rent loyalties.(Photo: Marwan Tahtah).

Wright also threatened to withhold advertisements from several media outlets if they dared expose his actions. He was also the one who told the International Labor Organization, which condemned his acts of bullying, after offering to mediate, that his employees had no union – after he gave those who had joined one the option of either leaving the union or being fired. And Mr. Wright was the one to put pressure on businesses to fire activists who had shown their support for the rights of Spinneys’ employees.

Michael Wright lived and worked in Lebanon for 16 years without obtaining a work permit, at least since 2005.

Nevertheless, he was not fined or deported. Instead, the Ministry of Labor rectified this irregularity in November 2012 – something that would never happen with a Sri Lankan or Filipino domestic worker.

Michael Wright did not attend a single hearing in the course of the lawsuits he brought against me for alleged libel and slander. I do not know the man personally, but I know a lot about his deeds and I have described them accurately and faithfully.

The Spinneys CEO failed to appear before the Criminal Court to be interviewed in the course of a lawsuit brought against him for denying Lebanese citizens their right to exercise their fundamental freedoms, despite being notified in both his personal capacity and in his capacity as the CEO of the company.

Wright did not send his lawyers or offer an apology, and even declared in statements to the press that he did not intend to appear and that nothing would happen.

He tried to evade being served with a subpoena, hiding in the hotel where he resides, after being contacted by the front desk upon the request, and in the presence of, the summons deliverer.

In two previous hearings before the Court of Publications, his lawyer was surprised to see me attend as the defendant. I did not make any insincere excuses, or ask for an adjournment. I insisted to be interrogated and tried, and for witnesses to be summoned, because of my confidence in the judiciary and my belief that the issue had nothing to do with libel and slander, but rather had everything to do with the duty of exposing those who assault public freedoms.

Paradoxically, at that hearing it was the prosecuting attorney who called for an adjournment. The lawyer objected to the judge because a number of activists and defenders of public freedoms – which Michael Wright violated – had answered my call and had come to the courthouse to show their support.

The lawyer claimed that their presence constituted abuse. But the presiding judge and public prosecutor responded to the lawyer by saying that court sessions were public and that there was no objection to litigators inviting their supporters to attend.

Michael Wright was advised that he too could send out invitations, not to activists defending public freedoms, but to employees of the company he manages, through their mobile phones and posters in the mess halls of his company’s stores – and he did. The following is the text of the message he sent out:

”Together for a stand in solidarity with Spinneys’ regional director Mr. Michael Wright in his lawsuit brought before the Court of Publications against Charbel Nahas on Wednesday, December 11, at 9:30 am. Venue: The Court of Publications – Sami al-Solh Street.”

It is no secret that Michael Wright is repeating what he did in the past, when he brought in his “loyal staff” to demonstrate outside his store in Ashrafieh, to shout that they did not want a union. On another occasion, these “loyal employees” staged a protest outside the union’s headquarters, shouting that Michael Wright represented them and not the union, and tried to obstruct the elections for the union’s council.

On yet another occasion, the employees came to the Ministry of Labor to show off the union, after he forced them to sign declarations that they are withdrawing from the union. Each time, those “loyal employees” came wearing the same uniforms, and in buses supplied by the company’s management, leaving no room for doubt about the unspontaneous and paid nature of their movement.

Wright is summoning his supporters, although he is the plaintiff before the Court of Publications and although he is the one whose lawyers have requested an adjournment. He is the one who has dodged subpoenas and failed to appear before the Criminal Court as a defendant in another case, and bragged that he would not attend the court hearing, and that nothing would happen as a result. Faced with this comical situation, one must preempt his “supporters” and declare: Thank you, Michael!

Thank you, because, you, of your own accord, are demonstrating the violations attributed to you. You have hired supporters, proving that the wage you pay them is enough – in your view – to force them, through blackmail and intimidation, not only to waive their rights and stand against their colleagues who dared demand these rights and risked being sacked by you, but also to humiliate themselves by playing trivial, saddening, and shameful roles that you have forced them to assume.

Thank you Michael for proving, clearly and remarkably, that you have been using your company’s financial assets to buy and rent loyalties. What a difference there is between those who are defending public freedoms, who persist in their efforts even though none of them is paid, while many of them receive threats and risk their jobs and livelihoods, and those whom you hire to support your bullying tactics, trampling on their own dignities and the basic rights of citizens.

Thank you for proving your contempt for the rights of Lebanese citizens, as you prevent them from exercising their fundamental freedoms; your contempt for the laws of the Lebanese state, living and working in Lebanon without applying for a work permit; and your contempt for the judiciary, by failing to comply with its summons, and by seeking today to instigate scuffles outside the court, thinking that this will confuse the matter.

Thank you, Michael, because you are going to come to court today – it would be a shame if you disappoint your hired supporters – and for giving us the opportunity to see you at long last.

Charbel Nahas is an economist and former telecommunications and labor minister of Lebanon.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Reformist and former minister of Social Affairs: On Trial for reforming society?

It’s not every day that you get to see a Lebanese minister pleading his case in court.
But it probably should be everyday considering that Lebanon is among the world’s most corrupt countries, according to the 2012 report by Transparency International.
Posted Yesterday by  posted this Nov. 2, 2013 in The Beirut Report:

A minister on trial

The ranking is not surprising in a country where government bodies routinely fail to publish any records on how public money is spent or the fact that known militia leaders, murders, criminals and their business associates are running the government with zero accountability.

So what brought former labor minister Charbel Nahas to court this week?

Did he insulted the head of a major corporation (Spinneys supermarket chain) after it was accused of intimidating and attacking its own employees.

Nahas is barely visible in this rare photo leaning into the podium just right of attorney Nizar Saghieh. Court proceedings are not videotaped, photographed or recorded.

Nahhas is accused of defaming the British Michael Wright, CEO of the massive Spinneys supermarket chain by calling him a “terrorist“in a Facebook post, following reports that workers have been physically abused or fired for attempting to form a union to demand their rights.

The workers had accused Spinneys of failing to implement a government passed wage hike, denying social security benefits for hundreds of its employees and actually collecting daily fees of 5,000LL from its bag handlers for the opportunity to work for Spinneys.

The formation of the private union was considered a historic event in a country where labor rights are violated with impunity on a daily basis and the Spinneys workers received support from the International Labor Organization as well as Minister Nahas, who helped them create the union.

Activists are saying that the Spinneys worker’s union has largely been emptied owing to a vast intimidation campaign by Spinneys management.

Activists allege that Wright and his legal team have been sending threatening letters to anyone who likes, blogs or shares critical posts about Spinneys.

I have seen a couple of these emails and have also heard testimony from activists who work outside of Spinneys and say they have either lost jobs or been forced into silence after Spinneys lawyers reached out to their bosses and demanded that they cease any activities criticizing the supermarket or its treatment of workers. Much of that has been documented on the site “Spinneys CEO Against Freedoms” created by activists.

But all this did not stop dozens of supporters from attending Minister Nahas’s defamation trial on Wednesday and his defense by the prominent human right’s lawyer Nizar Saghieh. The large crowd of supporters seemed to annoy the Spinneys lawyer, who accused the minister of recruiting court attendees on Facebook.

The judge laughed and said: “Next time, why don’t you invite your supporters via Facebook?

Nahas addresses the media following the hearing.
Activists supporting Nahas gather outside the courthouse.

The audience had a laugh as well and the judge threw out the complaint noting that court attendance was free and open to the public. This last line was really interesting to me. I never knew court trials were open to the public. In fact, I’d never been to the main courthouse in Adlieh, which is quite a large and impressive building by Lebanese institution standards, though currently under renovation.

Even more interesting was the level of gender equality in the courts.

About half of the cloak-wearing attorneys I saw in the hallways were female as were two out of three judges sitting on the bench in the Nahas trial:

The only problem was that it was really hard to hear anything. The large vintage wooden-pane windows were all propped open and, with no speaker system, the voices of both litigants and judges were drowned out by the jackhammers at a nearby construction site.

But a microphone wasn’t the only type of electronics that were desperately lacking. There were no cameras and not even a sound recording of the proceedings. The only record was a handwritten one, penned by the woman in green sitting next to the judges.

Of course all this pales in comparison to the questionable nature in which cases are chosen to be heard. And why is it that we are prosecuting people for criticizing a company’s policies on Facebook instead of prosecuting the myriad of white collar crimes and kickbacks going on nationwide, not to mention the utter public sector corruption that produces a critical lack of basic services such as healthcare, electricity, water, traffic policing and internet access, just to name a few.

Part of the problem seems to be intimidation.

Few Lebanese believe in the courts or have the time to fight in them. But perhaps more of us need to start making time to attend trials at this great, seemingly gender progressive courthouse and launching complaints about the leadership that has failed us.

As for the Nahas trial, the next hearing is scheduled for the 11th of December. More updates to come.


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