For the first time in Lithuania, an interference in trade union activities was punished by the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania. A prosecutor’s office directed the case to a court and both – a court of the first instance and a court of appeal – adopted a decision in favour of a trade union.
“Those who belong to trade unions know that an added pressure and threats for members are seen nearly on daily basis. Even if we have the article in the Criminal Code of Lithuania that states that any interference in trade union activities or harming their members’ welfare may lead to a fine or may be punished by public works and even restrictions of freedom. Nevertheless, the recent case is the first that ever reached the court“, – told Inga Ruginienė, President of the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (LSPK).
There were many tries by trade union members to seek justice but all earlier cases were discontinued by prosecutor’s offices due to “a lack of evidentiary material“. This time was different: there was an audio record, which captured a manager pressuring a trade union member to leave the local trade union or she would be fired. It happened in 2019 in a company called “Transachema“ that belongs to the “Achema Group”.
A trade union in this company was established in 2018 and 80% of workers became its members. Soon after that collective bargaining for a signing of a collective agreement was initiated. Unfortunately, a year of delayed negotiations by the employer followed. Seeing no progress, workers discussed a proposal to strike and later decided to organize it.
After that requests to leave the trade union started. A part of them was caused by the employer’s and his representatives’ pressure on workers to leave the union. The message was clear: ‘we will find a reason to fire you if needed’.
One of the workers, who knew these harmful tendencies, was ready to record the conversation when she would be invited to talk with a representative of the employer. The record became the most important evidence for the upcoming legal process on the negative interference in trade union’s activities.
During the conversation with the mentioned worker, the accused stated that she acted instructed by the director. In court, she changed her statement and told that was her personal opinion. Nevertheless, the court did not believe in this position due to the record and witness statements.
The court ruled the accused guilty and imposed her to pay a fine (2.500 Eur), compensate the non-pecuniary damage for the trade union and legal process costs. Later the court of appeal of the Kaunas city left the previous decision to stand.
The court ruling came into force on 8 April 2021.
The chairperson of “Transachema” and “Achema” trade unions Birutė Daškevičienė stresses that similar negative practices are still prevailing in Lithuania. Even though “Transachema” and “Achema” often talk about their social responsibility, workers see the opposite view and these court decisions illustrate that perfectly.
“We have seen many cases when the employer’s side crossed the red line but, unfortunately, in most cases, we did not have such decisive evidence. We see this victory as very important not only for us but for the whole trade union movement in Lithuania. The court ruling creates a precedent which may help us to fight against various pressure on trade union members and a trade union-busting“, – stated B. Daškevičienė.
She stressed that trade unions had always been willing to solve all problems via social dialogue.