In Athens it is not just cars and banks that have been burning. Women are
burned with vitriol for standing up to the medieval working conditions to
which they are subjected.
On the evening of December 23, Constantina Kouneva was attacked by two
unknown men who burned her face with vitriol and then forced her to swallow
fatal quantities of acid. Kouneva is a Bulgarian immigrant who has been
living in Greece for ten years. She has arrived in the country in search of
medical care for her son, who suffers from a severe heart condition. Kouneva
was a maintenance worker with a sub-contractor [OIKO.M.E.T.] which is hiring
out workers, mostly foreign women, to public services, hospitals, public
The women who undertake this drudging job are obliged – under the threat of
being sacked with no compensation, or of losing their residence permit – to
work in medieval conditions and for poverty wages below the minimum wage.
Paid for fewer hours than they actually work, often undeclared, putting in
extra unpaid hours, they live under an authentic reign of terror, knowing
that the blank form their employer forced them to sign when they were hired,
could at any moment be turned into a “letter of voluntary resignation”.
Moreover, if they are sacked, they find themselves blacklisted, and will
never again get work in the sector. In addition to this systematic
intimidation, they also have to put up with sexual harassment, which
particularly targets recently-arrived women immigrants. Constantina Kouneva
and a few others stood up against this system of modern slavery.
Constantina, general secretary for the Union of Maintenance Workers and
Domestic Staff for the region of Attica, had her life threatened on account
of her union activity; her mother, who worked for the same firm as her,
forced to resign by way of intimidation. Despite the death threats, Kouneva
continued her fight for the basic rights of her colleagues, and encouraged
them to do likewise. As a woman, an immigrant, and a union activist, Kouneva
was conspicuously “punished” to set an example.
She is currently fighting for her life. She has lost one eye and the doctors
are fighting to save what is left of the sight in the other. Her vocal cords
are destroyed, her throat and stomach irreversibly damaged. This dreadful
crime, the result of gangster capitalism, almost went unnoticed, and was
only picked up on thanks to the persistence and the courageous testimony of
Constantina’s colleagues. The police did everything possible to suppress the
affair, and it took persistent public protest and mobilizations to force the
authorities to open an enquiry. This was closed in a hurry without Kouneva
herself even being invited to give her version of events. The enquiry was so
badly conducted that the public prosecutor sent back its findings, demanding
an additional enquiry, and notably the examination of Kouneva’s employer as
a witness. Kouneva’s lawyers have denounced the attempt to play down the
affair as a crime of passion, which is entirely groundless since there is no
evidence in her private life which could suggest anything of the sort.
We are outraged at the heinous crime perpetrated against Constantina
Kouneva, and deplore the delay and unwillingness shown by the Greek police
in its conduct of the enquiry. We express our solidarity with this
magnificent activist and her colleagues who are still fighting despite death
threats from the employers’ camp. We demand rapid progress in the judicial
enquiry, and that those responsible be judged and sentenced for this
exceptionally vicious crime. Full light must be shed on the affair; those
who ordered it, as well as those who carried it out, must be brought to
justice. We also denounce as responsible those public institutions and banks
whose systematic outsourcing of services allows businesses with no respect
for workers’ rights to flourish.
We are acutely concerned by the fate of Constantina Kouneva and her
colleagues, whose work under conditions of medieval servitude: what is at
stake is the kind of Europe we wish to live in. Similar situations are to be
found throughout Europe, including police persecution of paperless
immigrants often leading to death, the exclusion from labour rights by
part-time or sub-contracted workers. This regime of internal exclusion in
which immigrant workers – and not only them – are forced to live raises our
indignation for two fundamental reasons.
In the first place, we refuse to accept these forms of discrimination which
divide our society into two separate worlds, one for nationals and another
for foreigners, for all those who live precarious lives, the new pariahs. In
the second place, we believe that this kind of phenomenon cannot fail to
have consequences for society as a whole, spreading fear well beyond its
direct victims. Its frequency could be measured by the extent to which
gangster practices are becoming a regular part of the world of work.
Moreover, the terror inflicted on immigrant workers goes hand in hand with
the construction of a fortress Europe.
What is at stake here is the building of a Europe without ghettos, an open
space where we can live together in a common world. We refuse the creation
of working ghettos and no-rights zones within our society. We demand the
abolition of the sub-contracting system as well as of the hiring of
employees under conditions close to those of slavery
JUSTICE FOR CONSTANTINA KUNEVA AND HER COLLEAGUES
TO SIGN THIS PETITION, click HERE or send an email to the follwing
P.S. To help financially Constanina Kouneva :
DECHEVA ELENA TODOR
IBAN : GR 28 0172 0120 0050 1201 9021 277
BIC : PIRBGRAA