[Austria] POLITICAL DISCRIMINATION AT THE RED CROSS

October 24, 2020, WAS-AIT, https://wiensyndikat.wordpress.com/

The winter package and the summer package…

Vienna is not just the romantic city of balls and waltzes. It is also a city with more than 10,000 poor and homeless people. Winter is harsh and freezing in the Austrian capital. To prevent the homeless from freezing to death, and to prevent them from being seen in the subways or elsewhere in public, which is not good for the city’s touristic image, the Vienna Homeless Aid of the municipality of Vienna (Wiener Wohnungslosenhilfe) organizes each winter the campaign « winter package » (Winterpaket). 1,200 additional places are open for the winter season in homeless shelters.

This campaign is managed by various charities, including the Red Cross. The Red Cross is renowned for being deeply conservative, but it is even worse in Austria since it acts as a satellite organization of the ÖVP, the conservative party of Chancellor Kurz. The government now delegates to Red Cross some activities that were strictly governmental until then, as for example the administration of the civil service or the realization and the distribution of the telephone application « Stop Corona App ». The Red Cross is therefore fully integrated into the State.

Each fall, the Red Cross hires seasonal social workers for the period of the « winter package » campaign. Their employment contract ends in the spring, then they are rehired the following fall. But during the summer, homeless do not disappear … So, a small group of seasonal social workers, from various Vienna Homeless Aids’ institutions, created a few years ago the “Initiative Sommerpaket” (Initiative summer package). This grassroots collective of workers publicly highlights the gaps in homeless care and also campaigns for better working conditions for social working with homeless people. In particular, they are fighting to be hired for a full year, so that their contracts do not end during the summer, and that accommodation for homeless people is thus available all year round, including summer.

Refusal of employment for political reasons

In early September 2020, some of these seasonal workers understood that they would not be rehired by the Red Cross unlike in previous years. While some seasonal workers had received at least 4 phone calls from the Red Cross begging them to come and work for the winter campaign, the phones of 7 colleagues from the former « NQ Apollogasse » homeless shelter remained desperately silent.

Some of these colleagues are politically active in their free time, they campaign with the Sommerpaket Initiative for the improvement of the service of the Viennese homeless. Others of the not rehired colleagues have been on pickets of the Initiative Sommerpaket. Obviously this bothers the Red Cross. In order to get rid of the disturbers, they therefore chose not to rehire them, giving the following reason: « Due to incidents and events not known in detail to the management of the homeless shelter, your application was rejected by the management of the red cross”

On enquiry, they have been informed that at least 7 employees were on an internal blacklist because they were involved, according to them, in the « Sommerpaket » initiative, as well as having denounced the poor health safety standards implemented by the Red Cross in their institution at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the workers involved declared: “In fact, we just wanted to contribute constructively in this difficult and new situation for all of us. I am really shocked by this response from the Red Cross”. It is indeed ironic that the Red Cross sanctions people for their commitment to greater security in the management of the Covid 19 pandemic! This is clearly a situation of discrimination in hiring for political reasons, and this despite the fact that the « Sommerpaket » initiative had never acted directly against the Red Cross!

For many, working during the winter campaign means a fixed source of income that has now been quickly denied to some long-time employees. “It was confirmed to us that there was no lack of performance at work on our part. We even received a certificate of impeccable service. It was a political decision. And that is why we are now responding with political means!” announced one of the former employees concerned.

For the companions of the WAS, this repressive measure is a deliberate attack on all attempts to organize collective resistance. In this atmosphere of intimidation, anyone who publicly advocates publicly and loudly for a social change could face serious consequences. This is why the WAS responded favourably to the request for solidarity addressed by the Sommerpaket Initiative and the workers affected by this employers’ lockout. They therefore organized together, with another « Social but not stupid » initiative, a rally in front of the Vienna headquarters of the Red Cross on October 28, 2020 at 7:30 a.m., the start of the winter campaign this year.

If they hit one of us, they hit us all! Report of the rally at the Red Cross headquarters in Vienna

October 28, 2020, WAS-AIT

Motivated and punctual, at 7:30 am, we met in front of the headquarters of the Vienna Red Cross. The comrades that the Red Cross did not rehire were present, as well as many acquaintances who expressed their solidarity in their support, many of them from the social sector, or about 70 people in total. The rally was organized by the “Sommerpaket” initiative and WAS-AIT. The initiative “Social but not stupid” and KOMintern, a communist union initiative, appealed also for this rally. The Gewerkschaftlicher Linksblock, a socialist fraction in the system did not miss the opportunity to join this left bloc.

With banners, brochures and flags, we protested the decision of the Vienna Red Cross not to re-engage our colleagues who had previously worked in the Winterpaket campaigns. This group of colleagues who worked for this campaign to help the homeless during the winter was not rehired, as apparently the commitment to better conditions for users and better working conditions for workers did not does not meet the objectives of the Red Cross.

Immediately, a “friendly and smiling” delegation of three prominent Red Cross figures came out of their offices and approached the rally intending to speak, visibly in awe of what was going on. « Hello, I’m the manager, who can we talk to? » To which no one in the crowd responded. The official was accompanied by the Red Cross press officer and a secretary. Colleagues from the Summer Package Initiative told them that they would not speak to them until the rally was over, after which they told the press officer that they wanted an explanation for the refusal to rehire them.

During the rally, several speeches were made to inform participants, Red Cross headquarters workers and passers-by, of the Red Cross shenanigans and the need to organize against these structures that are monopolizing the sector of social services. We chalked up on the sidewalks our indignation against the Vienna Red Cross and those who run it. These messages were deleted as soon as the concentration ended, a clear response from the Red Cross, which shows its unease at our criticism.

It is now up to the Red Cross officials to find a solution if they want to stop our protest actions. The precariousness of working conditions in the social services sector is obvious; something with which all the comrades of the gathering agreed, as well as with the fact that only with union and solidarity can we face it.

Further action is planned if the Red Cross does not respond favourably to our requests.

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