herald

Sunday 23 September 2018

'Being sacked after miscarriage left me terribly broken' - Mum awarded €17K

Aneta Petrova, pictured with her son David, has been awarded €17,000
Aneta Petrova, pictured with her son David, has been awarded €17,000

A woman has told how she was left "broken" after suffering a miscarriage and being summarily sacked days later by her employer while on sick leave.

Aneta Petrova (37) spoke about her ordeal yesterday after the Labour Court ordered her former employer, chicken producer Western Brand Group, to pay her €17,000.

It found that she was unfairly dismissed from the company's chicken processing plant at Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo.

Ms Petrova said that she cried down the phone when told by a Western Brand representative that she lost her job because she was "sick for too long" on December 29, 2015.

"I cried on the phone because I felt guilty, because I lost a job I was looking for for a year," she said.

"I didn't realise that this was real and was happening - and then when I saw the P45 I cried even more."

Grieving

Just 12 days earlier, Ms Petrova had been rushed to hospital after fainting at home and subsequently had a miscarriage at hospital as a result of having an ectopic pregnancy.

"It was the most sad time. I was grieving - every woman who has been through this, we all grieve," she said.

"You feel guilty that you didn't keep this baby - you feel terribly, terribly broken.

"And to top it off, just to lose a simple job like that for a reason like this, I couldn't understand it."

Ms Petrova said she did not know she was pregnant when rushed to Mayo University Hospital on December 17, and believes now that she was seven weeks pregnant when she miscarried.

"I was devastated because of my age. I'm old for having children, and I was told that because of my medical history that I probably won't have children. I had the saddest Christmas of my life that year," she said.

"I was really, really in a bad emotional condition. Physically Western Brand traumatised me in the manner in which they sacked me.

"This shouldn't happen to anyone. I didn't do anything wrong at Western Brand."

Ms Petrova has a masters degree in European law and a degree in economics, and speaks English, Russian, German and Spanish.

Ms Petrova left Bulgaria for Ireland for love rather than economic circumstances.

She left behind a good job in the country, training medics to operate medical equipment, to be with her boyfriend, Stephan, in Ballyhaunis.

"I was asked why someone so highly qualified was trying to get a job in a meat factory, but it is a job that puts bread on the table," she said.

Ms Petrova said that there were many highly educated overseas workers like her on the production line at Western Brand.

She was earning €8.65 an hour and the treatment she endured, being summarily dismissed over the phone by her employer, gives a glimpse of the difficulties faced here by some migrant workers.

Conor O'Dwyer, of O'Dwyer Solicitors in Ballyhaunis, represented Ms Petrova in the case.

"Many migrant workers are often so fearful of losing their jobs that they endure appalling conditions rather than seek to vindicate their rights," he said yesterday.

Ms Petrova added: "Here in Ireland, Irish people often say 'it is not too bad', but it is really bad.

"If they were in my shoes, they would feel terribly bad, like I did."

Ms Petrova said that when she told Irish friends in 2016 of her dismissal, "they strongly advised me not to do anything - to move on with my life and to get another job".

"I didn't listen to them - I believe what happened to me is not right. It would be outrageous not to do anything about it," she said.

At the Labour Court, the Western Brand Group pleaded that it did not realise Ms Petrova was pregnant or that she had suffered a miscarriage at the time of her dismissal.

It said that her medical certificates confirming the miscarriage were not seen by payroll before the call was made to dismiss her on December 29.

The company said that after finding that Ms Petrova had suffered a miscarriage, it subsequently apologised and said that she could reapply for her job when she returned to full health.

However, the Labour Court found that Western Brand did know about Ms Petrova's pregnancy and miscarriage at the time of her dismissal.

Happily, Ms Petrova gave birth to a baby boy, David, 11 months ago "after a hard and complicated pregnancy, but thank God we are here, he is growing up and we are happy".

Consequences

Ms Petrova is now back sending out CVs looking for work once more.

She has yet to receive the €17,000 award from Western Brand.

"I am not done with Western Brand - I am not ready to turn the page on Western Brand," she said.

The most recent accounts for the highly successful firm show that the €17,000 award would represent little more than loose change for the family-operated company.

In 2016, Western Brand enjoyed revenues of €101m and recorded profits of €9.6m.

At the end of 2016, the company was sitting on accumulated profits of €37.99m.

The firm's directors, Eugene Lannon, Claire Lannon and Jack Lannon, shared pay of €736,623 in 2016, which included €400,000 in pension payments.

"The €17,000 is not going to change my life. It is not a $12m jackpot but it would be very welcome," Ms Petrova said.

"It was never about the money, it was about not allowing Western Brand to be able to treat a worker in the way I was treated and face no consequences".

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