Can the trade union CNV use harsh language against an employer?

‘Ukrainians working in greenhouses in Western Norway are being exploited’. That’s how it started on the side RTL News on June 2 last year the news cycle. The apparently imminent ‘deportation’ to a war zone if employees break the rules attracted particular attention. Four major media outlets took over the news. Members of the House of Representatives seemed indignant, the minister said sent a tweet.

Six months later, the judge in the preliminary trial is vocal in his indignation. What was said then was very untrue and should never have been said that way. The advertisement had been used as a weapon to drive a bona fide business out of the Netherlands. In court, an emotional Polish owner, supported by satisfied employees and two lawyers. On the other side, a group of trade unionists, including the driver. He remembers “vomiting” mentally when the workers’ stories reached him. They were helpless, scared, hungry, ignorant and broken.

The RTL editorial staff had spoken to Ukrainian employees and seen employment contracts with provisions that the plaintiff, the Polish owner, admit this morning that they “do not deserve the beauty award”. But yes, drunkenness and destruction happens. So the fines are not “so bizarre” either.

The union spoke of a ‘humanitarian emergency’ with workers not receiving wages, unable to buy food and threatened with ‘deportation’. There was talk of ‘stifling contracts’. The Polish company acted “completely immoral and reprehensible.”

The plaintiff fires off a barrage of questions. Did the trade union CNV have sufficient indications for these serious accusations? Was there any tampering with bank accounts? What did those contracts say? And is the maximum duration of ninety days for posting within the EU now a “threat of deportation”? Or just normal information about the IND’s rules? Can CNV encourage customers to break ties with the Polish company?

The lawyers calmly read rather long pleadings, the plaintiff first. He says that after the riot in June, the Polish company received the certificate from the Labor Standards Foundation. And check it out voluntarily. He considers the CNV’s demand that his client “resign from the Netherlands” as an example of “playing one’s own judge”.

The allegations are ‘so low that I cannot comment on it’

Interest organizations must also observe journalistic ethics: act in good faith, offer an opponent, report on a factual basis, thoroughly and correctly. It completely ignored CNV. The publicity cost the company customers. It “could mean the end.”

According to CNV’s lawyer, the most negative qualifications came from the media. And what CNV said was not meant lightly, not offensive and not personal. The investigation was reasonable and comprehensive and met the requirements that had to be placed on an interest organization. And if damage has already occurred, it is more likely from RTL and not from CNV.

When the lawyers finish speaking, emotions break through. The owner, a burly man, fills the room with an impassioned and increasingly loud prayer in Polish. He would like to see someone “who has done as much for Ukraine as I have”. The allegations “are so low that I cannot comment on it.” To the CNV director: “What are you? Right? Police officer?”

Two weeks later, the Polish agency has been proven wrong on all counts. CNV does not have to correct anything and is free to criticize the company. The allegations were not made lightly given the facts. The word ‘deportation’ in the contracts can be interpreted as a threat, says the judge. The judge finds the term suffocating contracts “onerous” but not unduly offensive or objectionable. “It stands [CNV] free to load things up”. Seeking publicity and approaching customers is not illegal. The employment service must pay the trade union more than 1,600 euros in court costs.

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