Fishpacking Plant in Kozina Linked to Former State Secretary Accused of Exploiting Staff

By , 08 Jun 2022, 15:29 PM Business
Fishpacking Plant in Kozina Linked to Former State Secretary Accused of Exploiting Staff Photo" kengkreingkrai CC-by-0

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STA, 8 June 2022 - A fishpacking plant owned by the family of Boris Šuštar, a former state secretary convicted of passive bribery, has been faced with allegations about forcing their workers to work ceaselessly for a pittance and creating intolerable working conditions. A charge has been filed against the company for suspected worker exploitation. 

Šuštar, who was state secretary at the Economy Ministry in 1997-2000, co-founded the seafood wholesale Marinblu with his wife, Rozana Šuštar, as well as another affiliated company Selea. Together they run the fishpacking facility in Kozina in the south-west of the country, near the border with Italy.

Allegations have now emerged that their employees are forced to work long hours or overtime and are pushed to the brink of exhaustion for a maximum of EUR 3.9 per hour, as one of the workers told the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija in a piece that was aired on Tuesday evening.

They allegedly receive no overtime pay, or if they do, it is less than it should have been and under the table. Moreover, the company subtracts from their wages employment costs that should have been covered by the employer, the anonymous worker revealed for the public broadcaster.

What also came to light are screenshots of employer-employee Viber conversations that show that the company monitors their workers non-stop. They are rebuked via the instant messaging app for what the Šuštar family sees as taking too many breaks or not working good enough.

"Go for a snack during a break, don't go for a snack a hundred times even if you work 15 hours. Hang in there, we're all in the same boat," reads one of such rebukes. Another one says: "Every minute counts. What are you waiting for!?????"

"Total terror through video surveillance. Cameras are monitoring you, there is no free time, your private life is invaded with constant phone calls; these workers are completely physically, mentally, financially and emotionally exhausted.

"This is clearly a situation of systematic exploitation of workers. Such a company must not exist! And what is even more horrifying is that they try to indoctrinate workers by a clever manipulation to make them believe they are all in the same boat, meaning the owner (employer) and the workers," said Goran Lukič with Delavska Svetovalnica, an NGO protecting the rights of workers, especially migrant workers.

Last week, the organisation filed a criminal complaint with the prosecutor's office in Koper against both Marinblu and Selea for suspected violations of workers' rights.

RTV Slovenija noted that the concept of "them all being in the same boat" appears to be even more absurd when taking a look at social media profiles of Šuštar family members, who appear to be living an extravagant life, indulging in luxury cruises and parties.

Meanwhile, allegations also accuse them of treating their workers with disrespect and humiliating them. The workers are, for example, marked on the timesheets simply by "Ukrainian 1" or "Ukrainian 2".

The anonymous worker also shared a story of Boris Šuštar coming to the facility, pulling his trousers down to his knees, turning to his employees and telling them they could kiss him on the ass.

Marinblu and Selea employ some 20 workers, most are believed to be from Western Balkan countries or third countries. RTV Slovenija reported that scenes such as Indian workers sleeping on the floor of the plant's warehouse are nothing unusual at the companies, and neither is the fact that the worker who shared his story had worked for 12 hours a day on average and once even for 40 hours non-stop.

Rozana Šuštar, Marinblu director, rejected all the allegations, saying that all their employees worked in accordance with relevant labour laws. She also dismissed allegations that labour inspectors found breaches of labour laws in Selea in the last three years.

The Labour Inspectorate meanwhile said that it had carried out several inspections at Marinblu and Selea in the past, during which it found violations in the areas of wages, holiday bonus, working time, breaks and rest periods.

Economy Minister Matjaž Han said he was "appalled at the working conditions" at the two companies. He expects the competent authorities will immediately do their job and prevent the exploitation of workers.

"Slovenia must be a role model of a well regulated economy in which strict labour rules and environmental standards are respected," he was quoted as saying by the ministry.

Boris Šuštar was sentenced to two years in prison in 2004 for accepting bribes as state secretary. After his release on parole, he was again sentenced to imprisonment in 2007 in a separate trial for fraud during his time as state secretary. He fled to Canada during the second trial while being on parole.

He was extradited to Slovenia in the same year based on an international arrest warrant. He was sentenced to another five and a half years in prison for abuse of office, but was again released on parole after serving two-thirds of his sentence. His EUR 800,000 compensation claim against the state was rejected.

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