Dying for a fist full of euros, a long way from home

Nov 15, 2018
ELA is reporting the San Sebastian company, Eraiki Prest after a Portuguese worker who resided in Guipuzcoa was involved in a fatal work accident in Germany. This is the report that is included in the latest Landeia on the subject.

ELA has filed complaints against the San Sebastian company Eraiki Prest before the Provincial Work and Social Security Inspection and the Department of Employment and Social Policy of the Basque Government after the fatal work accident suffered on the 3rd of September in Germany by a Portuguese worker who was a resident in Guipuzcoa. The deceased, along with another four colleagues – two from Algeria and two from Morocco, had travelled from San Sebastian to the German city of Merkendorf to fit some solar panels. Eraiki Prest had been sub-contracted by Enova Construction CVBA to carry out this work.

The worker lost his life after falling from a height of 15 metres. Just half an hour before the fatal accident, the worker was photographed on the top of the roof; a photograph that shows that he was working without any safety measures: no net, or railing or lifelines.

The five workers who had gone to work in Germany, a Portuguese man, two Algerians and two Moroccans, left San Sebastian on the 1st of September in a van and reached the German city in the early hours of the 3rd. After sleeping just 5 hours, they contacted a representative from the company Enova, Eraiki Prest’s contractor; they had breakfast and were taken to the farm where they had to replace the roof tiles with solar panels. “They were told to go onto the roof without any safety measures,” Igor San José, the construction manager from ELA explains. “In fact they took photos in order to have evidence of this”. A few hours later, the Portuguese worker fell from a height of 15 metres and died. From the moment this occurred, events speeded up. “The company’s representative removed the other four workers from the area; they were taken to the flat where they were going to be staying, and on the 5th they arrived back in San Sebastian by train”. They were removed as soon as possible to ensure they could not give any declarations or report the irregularities of the building site.

Protected by ELA

Once in Euskal Herria, these workers contacted ELA to report what had happened and elicit the trade union’s support. “They were frightened and overwhelmed by the death of their colleague”, Igor explained, who is very clear about the fact that there must be an investigation, both in the Basque Country and in Germany and the companies must be sanctioned, to ensure that events like this one are not repeated or do not get off scot free.

On their return from Germany these workers were left completely defenceless, not only financially, but the trade union gave them cover of all types to ensure that they could declare and settle the responsibilities regarding what had happened. “The five workers accepted to go and work in Germany under complete false pretences. They were promised a good wage plus expenses for food and lodging. But when they arrived there, they were told that they were going to be paid 60 euros a week. The German company outsourced cheap, unskilled labour: the five had an end of construction contract and they were skilled labourers. Eraiki has taken a month to pay them for the three days they worked; they have tried to make them leave, therefore it was important to cover them until the events have been cleared up”.

Igor San José confirms that in this case a whole set of irregularities has occurred and he understands that Eraiki Prest, outsourced by the Belgian company Enova Construction CVBA, has incurred in several infractions that must be investigated. “The company that employs them is from here; the contracts were signed in San Sebastian on the day before they left, except for the one signed by the deceased worker which he signed when he got into the van taking them to Germany. The workers were not trained for this work; they had never worked for this company and they had not passed the compulsory medical check up. There are countless irregularities”.

Pirates wearing ‘txapelas’

Another fact that should be reported is that no-one from Eraiki Prest accompanied these workers to Germany, nor were any preventive resources sent, and they were virtually abandoned to their own luck. “There was no foreman, someone should have been supervising them”, Igor reports, at the same time as emphasising the fact that the company only reported the death of the worker to the Work Inspection due to its public denunciation by ELA.

After taking the declarations made by the dead worker’s colleagues, now we must wait for the results of the investigation and for justice to take its course. Igor San José is clear about this. “Osalan is on the case and is in contact with the German authorities. The sanctions must be exemplary”.

In addition to the human drama that this group of workers has experienced, Igor San José makes a very clear trade union and social reading of the event. “Sometimes we tend to believe that the Basque construction companies are little more than shining examples and that it is the other companies, the ones outsourcing from abroad, the ones that come here to carry out social dumping, taking advantage of people’s needs. But in this case we have seen that our companies also carry out this type of practice and that they accept work in France and Germany with workers under very precarious conditions, without any training... an ideal breeding ground for accidents”.

Igor San José is very clear about how to tackle this situation. “We have a good agreement. It must be applied. Both the workers from here and those who come from outsourced pirate companies. And the institutions must become involved in the fulfilment of the agreement using exemplary sanctions. Because often, this breach is translated into broken lives”.