Thursday 14 February 2013

An inspirational woman

Everyone has heard of a story that touches them to the core, that plunges them in despair, that uplifts them and makes them wonder at the fortitude of human beings. The story of Konstantina Kuneva is such a story for me.

A Bulgarian migrant worker in Athens, she was also secretary of the Union of Housekeepers and Cleaners of Attika. On the 23rd of December 2008 she was attacked with sulfuric acid by two men outside her home as she was returning from work.  After dousing her with the stuff, they opened her mouth and poured the acid down her throat which resulted in serious injuries to her internal organs. Five years on, Kuneva is still in Paris receiving treatment for her injuries: her esophagus is totally ruined, she has serious difficulties in breathing and swallowing and because of this she very often has to sleep in a seated position.

Kuneva was a very active trade unionist. She fought to have her job categorised as a hazardous occupation, but ISAP, the company she was working for would not have it. Amonst the gains she managed to achieve for her fellow workers was a reduction of a six hour working day to five and a half hours, and the establishment of a half hour break.

The events before the attack and subsequent testimony of her fellow workers clearly point to this being an act to punish her for her involvement in her union. The Union is one of the most active workers' unions within what is euphemistically called precarious labour: migrant, severely underpaid and unprotected workers in one of the most devalued sectors.

She received numerous death threats and tried to get her employers to take this seriously, to no avail. One of her requests was for her shift to be moved from night time to a day time one as that would give her some protection, particularly when returning home from work. She also applied to be moved from working in Marousi to Thisio which was near her home. The company refused any of this.

The perpetrators were never caught and are unlikely to be caught now, as the case has been shelved.

Her case finally reached the courts last week. What her lawyers are asking for is for her case to be categorised as an 'industrial accident', so that she can receive compensation to pay for the huge medical bills that have been inccured.

We wish her luck in this as well as a continuous recovery to her health.

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