“I hope that from now on all garment workers will find the courage to fight for their rights.”
Support for courageous garment worker
Romanian Angelica Manole (40) never imagined her post on social media would have such an impact. Without giving any reason her employer, the Tanex factory withheld half of her wages in 2020. Many of her colleagues also suffered the same fate. Refusing to leave it at that Angelica posted a picture of her pay cheque online. Her message received no less than 996 reactions and was shared 2682 times.
Thanks to her perseverance, and with the support of international trade unions, Clean Clothes Campaign and supporters worldwide, Angelica and her colleagues were finally vindicated, and their back wages were finally paid.
No freedom of association, wage theft and intimidation
Located in a town in the heart of Romania, the Tanex factory makes clothing for brands, such as MassimoDutti, MaxMara and Ted Baker. These brands sell their garments at prices ranging from hundreds to sometimes thousands of dollars.
The Tanex factory used the corona pandemic as an excuse to withhold wages. For months, Tanex paid garment workers only 140 euros, half the minimum wage. That amount is not enough to live on; 140 euros is only 12.5% of the living wage in Romania. Despite the pay cut, Angelica and her colleagues still had to continue to work full days.
Withholding wages was not the only violation at the Tanex factory, workers were subject to a litany of abuse. They were intimidated and harassed, legally required social insurance contributions and overtime was not paid, and the management prevented Angelica and her colleagues from forming a factory union.
On May 15, 2021, Angelica couldn’t take it anymore. She shared her pay cheque on Facebook and the message was shared on a huge scale. Local and national media invited Angelica to tell her story and then other workers, while wanting to remain anonymous, also spoke out publicly.
In the meantime, the Clean Clothes Campaign network had also been alerted to the case. Organisations from our network, in collaboration with international trade unions, approached the clothing brands that had clothing produced by Tanex. These brands were put under pressure to take action to deal with the abuses at the factory.
The Labour Inspectorate launched an investigation into the events. The factory management claimed that Angelica and her colleagues had taken unpaid leave and that was the reason they had been paid less. Initially, the factory was vindicated: claiming that Angelica and her colleagues could not have worked full weeks. After public pressure, Romania's Labour Minister ordered a new inspection. This revealed that Angelica and her colleagues had simply continued to work full-time. The Minister was forced to apologise personally, a unique occurrence, and the factory was fined for not paying the minimum wage.
Meanwhile, Angelica had been fired. The Tanex factory accused her of damaging the factory’s image because she had spoken out online against the withholding of wages. "That was a difficult time for me and my family, since I was the breadwinner," she said in an interview with Euronews. But thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, she was still able to support herself until she found another employer. "I thought it was incredible that all that money had been collected for me in a few days," she told us.
Justice in court
Angelica's dismissal was subsequently not officially reversed by the factory. However, she was invited to come and work for the factory again "in view of her family’s difficult situation". The factory management would not acknowledge the mistakes they had made.
Angelica decided to seek justice in court. After the court case, which lasted six months, Angelica and her colleagues were finally paid back all the back wages to which they were entitled. A national union was also granted access to the factory, but the establishment of a trade union at the factory itself has yet to be realised.
Courage and solidarity
Through Angelica's courage to speak out, the abuses at the Tanex factory came to light. Angelica was able to successfully claim the overdue payments with the support of organisations from within the CCC network, international trade unions and many individual supporters, "I hope that from now on all garment workers will find the courage to fight for their rights," says Angelica looking back on the case.
Production in Romania
Romania is the largest clothing producer in Europe. An estimated 400 thousand workers, 90 percent of whom are women, make clothes for major brands, such as H&M, Zara and Nike. The women are often the breadwinners and are usually paid the minimum wage, which is only a quarter of the living wage in Romania.
Angelica's case has fortunately been solved, but for many others, this is not yet the situation. Check out payyourworkers.org to see what you can do to help resolve them.