Trolleybus driver fired because of allergy to disinfectant; REP stands up for him

by ganna
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On June 25, in the Oktiabrsky District Court of Mogilev, an amicable agreement was concluded between Alexander Bozhkov, a member of the REP Trade Union, and a branch of Trolleybus Fleet No. 1. The latter, Alexander’s former employer, has undertaken to pay him the average monthly salary and part of the premium – BYN 641 in total.

Alexander worked as Category 6 trolleybus driver since the summer of 2018. In May 2020, his labour contract was terminated ahead of schedule. Shortly before this, he was deprived of 20% of premium allegedly for violating the working instruction.

The official wording of his firing was “non-fulfilment, without due cause, of his labour duties.” The fact was that he had refused to drive his trolleybus en route, because, according to the driver, “after disinfection, it emitted a strong ammonia odour.

Transport disinfection: without instruction and with no surcharge

Alexander Bozhkov’s conflict with his bosses began this spring. In late March-early April, the employer introduced new provisions into the working instruction of the Category 6 trolleybus driver. In case of an epidemiological increase in the incidence and spread of acute viral infections, drivers were obliged to “perform disinfection in the cabin and salon of their trolleybuses.” However, no additional pay for that was envisioned. At that time, no procedure of the operation was developed. The instruction on labour safety during disinfection was approved only on April 16, 2020.

On April 3, in my free time and on my own initiative, in the central dispatch room, I got acquainted with the updated incomplete working instruction, and since no labour safety instruction had existed by then, I indicated, in the acquaintance sheet, that I partially disagreed therewith,” Alexander noted in his lawsuit. According to his story, trolleybus drivers were acquainted with this updated instruction since March 31; and they were ordered to start disinfecting their vehicles.

After Alexander refused to do it, his bosses deprived him of 20% of his premium.

“At that time, nobody conducted any training and briefing with me on safe work with disinfectants and detergents, and on how to render first aid in case of accidental poisoning,” the driver has explained.

“I began choking, and my eyes were all in tears”

The climax of the conflict with the employer occurred on April 21. On this day, Alexander had a breaking schedule (part of the shift in the morning, a break and part of the shift in the afternoon, – note of the REP News).

After the end of the first shift, at about midday, the driver felt unwell:

“In my personal time I went to the Mogilev Tube Dispensary to see an allergist in connection with my allergic reaction to the disinfectant named ‘Kryshtalin-OPTIMA’. On the same day, also in my personal time, I was briefed on labour safety rules,” the driver has explained.

At the start of the second part of the shift, Alexander was offered to drive a trolleybus, which, after disinfection, exuded a strong chemical smell:

Because of this smell, I began choking, and my eyes watered; I reported immediately to the employer and the nurse the health centre, to whom earlier on that day I gave a certificate from the hospital.”

Alexander Bozhkov refused to go on the route in such a trolleybus, since such conditions were a direct threat not only to his life and health, but also to passengers. The driver asked for another vehicle, but the fleet bosses refused. Alexander was forced to write an explanatory note for refusing to go on route. And a few days later, he was notified about the early termination of his contract since May 11.

“Initially, the legal norms were not observed. Everyone perfectly understands his duties: there is a duty to brief drivers on labour safety. My duty is to ensure safe conditions for passengers; and I performed it,” Alexander Bozhkov told in his interview with the “MogilevOnline” Portal.

Alexander wrote his first appeal to the Department of Labour Safety, but it gave no result. Then, the driver filed a lawsuit.

At the trial, his interests were represented by Boris Bukhel, a volunteer of the REP Trade Union from Mogilev, a human rights defender:

“During the trial, we managed to come to an amicable settlement. As a result, the dismissal under the guilty article ‘for systematic failure to perform one’s service duties’ was replaced by the dismissal on agreement of the parties. We also claimed the payment of a 20% premium, which the employer failed to pay his employee. This amount was included into the settlement agreement. Drivers received no surcharges for the work to be performed by specially trained teams. Of course, Alexander was outraged. In fact, he was persecuted and fired for conscientiously performing all the instructions and his duties. The behaviour of the employer in this case was absolutely unacceptable,” Boris Bukhel has concluded.