Poland: Latest developments in working life Q3 2019
The government setting a minimum wage level for 2020, trade union pluralism for uniformed service workers, and changes to the labour law are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Poland in the third quarter of 2019.
Government unilaterally sets minimum wage for 2020
On 15 September, following the failure of negotiations in the Social Dialogue Council (the central-level tripartite body), the government unilaterally set the minimum wage for 2020. The new minimum wage will be PLN 2,600 gross (€611 as at 4 November 2019), which is a rise of 15.6% from the 2019 level (PLN 2,250 or €529). The new minimum hourly wage will be PLN 17 (€4), which is also an increase on the 2019 level (PLN 14.7 or €3.5). Because of the increase, the minimum wage for 2020 will almost equal 50% of the national average pay, which has been the trade unions’ aim for a decade.
The increase is more than the government initially proposed (8.9%) and represents the second time that the government has exceeded the proposal submitted by the trade unions (the previous case was in 2016). In addition, the ruling party – Law and Justice – announced that the minimum wage should continue to rise until it reaches PLN 4,000 (€940) in 2023.
The extent of the wage increase, along with the ruling party’s announcement, received mixed reactions from economic experts, trade unions and employer organisations. Critics state that the rapid increases in the minimum wage points to a link between wage levels and labour productivity but may also be a burden on public finances. Critics also voiced concerns that because the government made the decision unilaterally there could be a negative impact on tripartite dialogue in the future.
- Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy: Płaca minimalna w górę. Rada Ministrów przyjęła rozporządzenie
Trade union pluralism allowed in uniformed services
In late July, the parliament adopted a series of amendments to legislative acts regarding uniformed services (such as the police, prison guards, the Border Guard), introducing full freedom of association to functionaries.  Members of these services have now gained the unrestricted right to belong to, join or establish a trade union in line with the Trade Unions Act.
After the freedom of association principle was reinstated in 1989, the uniformed services remained the only group of employees that were limited in their unionisation (apart from select special groups such as judges or soldiers). Because of this, there has only been one trade union per service before this change in the law.
Despite the change, the rule prohibiting the uniformed services from striking remains intact. President Andrzej Duda signed the amendments into law in early August and the law is due to enter force in late October.
Changes to labour law introduced
A number of significant changes to the Labour Code came into force in September. These included regulations on discrimination and the certificate of employment.
To address discrimination, the changes concern clauses 11/3 and 18/3a by introducing an open catalogue of the grounds for discrimination. Prior to the amendment, there were two types of grounds for discrimination:
- discrimination related to the specific characteristics of an individual
- discrimination related to job performance
In the case of the specific characteristics of an individual, the open catalogue already existed. In the case of discrimination related to job performance, the circumstances previously had to be named exhaustively.
For the certificate of employment, the changes concern:
- extending the period during which the former employee may request the relevant document from the employer (from 7 to 14 days)
- giving the employee the right to challenge the employer before the labour court if relevant documents are not issued
- giving the employee the right to request a confirmation of entitlement to a certificate of employment from a labour court in case the employer no longer exists
- Polish government: Ustawa z dnia 16 maja 2019 r. o zmianie ustawy – Kodeks pracy oraz niektórych innych ustaw
Parliamentary elections coming up in October have already left an indelible mark on the social dialogue discourse. The increase of the minimum wage made unilaterally by the government accompanied by the ruling party’s statements stressing urgent need to start raising wages at a faster pace to catch up with Western Europe in terms of pay have met with mixed reactions. Introducing union pluralism for the uniformed services on the one hand means a removal of restrictions on the freedom of association, on the other poses a risk that the newly founded pluralism will turn into a ‘competitive’ one.