The long-running struggle against exploitation in the Mall of Berlin has now reached a critical stage, with court cases beginning against the bosses of the construction companies that refused to pay migrant workers. Our members, who were employed in the construction of the mall and have still not received a penny for their labour, have begun to exert legal force against their bosses, and have received some validation from the courts.
On August 5th, a decisive victory was won in the Magdeburger Platz court, as a judge ruled against the contractor openmallmaster GmbH, and in favour of two of our members, who are now officially owed their wages by their bosses. This amended a sentence from April 2015, to which openmallmaster GmbH had objected. They are now legally compelled to pay our members. The workers are now due to receive 1226 euros and 4411 euros respectively, a sum calculated to their declared earnings of the time, which were between 5 and 6 euros per hour. In response to the award of a value equivalent to poverty wages, the FAU has now further demanded that the court should award an equivalent to the standarised and agreed minimum wage in the construction sector at the time during which our members were employed.
Markus, the secretary of the FAU in Berlin, was upbeat about the decision, and took it as a vindication of the militant tactics used in fighting for the rights of migrant workers. “This success shows that where a militant perspective exists, an alternative to shameless exploitation can be found in a fighting union”. He added: “This is an important victory, particularly because it shows that impoverished migrant workers are not as easy targets as bosses think they are, and are also capable of fighting legally for their rights”.The trial itself was a humiliation for openmallmaster GmbH. They had previously insisted that none of the migrant workers had ever worked for them, a claim made dubious by the ability of the workers themselves to describe working practices and procedures on the building site. The openmallmaster lawyer sat in silence as our members proved him wrong. He then set out to claim that a worker without a permanent residence was unable to enact court proceedings against his company, a claim which was denied by the court, who made it clear that, even if a plaintiff had no permanent residence, that did not impinge on their ability to mount legal proceedings.
The Mall of Berlin, which opened in late 2014, is a temple to shopping and consumerism, but a temple built on exploitation. Since the mall first began trading in Leipziger Platz, a group of migrant workers have been protesting against it, often in the freezing cold and snow. Their resolve and commitment to achieving justice has been inspiring. The workers came into contact with the FAU in Berlin, and began to build a wider campaign, resulting in large demonstrations in front of the 1 billion euros Mall of Berlin – now entitled the “Mall of Shame” – and extensive coverage in German and international press. The 30 workers, who are all Romanian, were recruited from building sites around Europe, and brought to Berlin with the promise of stable employment and secured housing. Instead they found themselves working illegally, without proper contracts or documentation, and sleeping rough in the streets. Workers were told that they were not allowed to register in Germany, a legal requirement to work or find an apartment. When they protested this, they were told that they could register, but that it would cost them 150 euros, a prohibitively large sum. The actual price for that is – nothing! The workers were also threatened by staff when they protested against their poverty conditions, and journalists who set out to cover the story were also intimidated. The working conditions within the building site were similarly sub-standard, with poor sanitary conditions and little regard for safety procedures and fire protection. The fire protection issue was so great that, in the lead-up to the vital Christmas business period, the Mall came to the brink of closure, as studies revealed glaring lapses in fire safety standards, which were rectified at the last moments, allowing the shopping centre to remain open.Openmallmaster GmbH, the company against this most recent court victory was won, is just one of a patchwork of contractors, sub-contractors and dubious front companies involved with the construction of the Mall. Whilst Harald Huth, the major financier of the Mall of Berlin, can still call himself “The King of Leipziger Platz”, some of the companies he delegated duties in building the shopping centre to, are not as successful. Some have declared bankruptcy rather than face the courts in regards to unpaid workers and safety deficiencies, whereas others flatly deny ever having employed our members. The FAU continues to fight on for the rights of our members from the Mall of Berlin, and for the rights of migrant workers everywhere. We call upon all interested parties to get involved in the campaign, either by attending a working group meeting, by attending the court dates in person to show solidarity, or by publicising the cases of our members within your own circles. Updates on the case are published on the FAU Berlin website, alongside the dates of the upcoming court cases.