Poland: EIRO Annual Review 2009

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 10 Januar 2011



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Developments on Poland’s industrial relations scene throughout 2009 were dominated by the global economic crisis and its fallout, which proved to be a potent stimulant for autonomous dialogue, leading to the adoption of an anti-crisis package. The terms of this agreement enabled employers to implement more flexible labour policies; the unions obtained a number of safety provisions for employees whose benefits, measured in purely financial terms, suffered due to the crisis. Much negative feelings – especially from the unions side – was stirred up by the privatisation plans of the Polish government, and the commencement of privatisation procedures was accompanied by a series of protests.

1. Political developments

Throughout the year, Poland was administered by the cabinet sworn in 2007, comprising of a coalition between the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), a centre-right party with affinities to the Christian Democratic movement, and the Polish Peasant Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL).

The only nationwide election held during the year was that to the European Parliament. The best results were achieved by candidates fielded by the PO; the second best showing was by the coalition between the Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD), a social democratic party descended from Poland’s communist movement, and the Labour Union (Unia Pracy, UP).

In October 2009, President Lech Kaczyński signed the ratification act of the Lisbon Treaty, effectively concluding the process of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by Poland.

In 2010 Poland will hold elections to local self-government bodies; the autumn of 2010, meanwhile, will bring presidential elections.

2. Collective bargaining developments

There are two types of agreement subject to registration under Polish law:

  1. Agreements executed within a single employing establishment are registered by the National Labour Inspectorate (Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP). Detailed statistics on this subject will be available in mid-2010; at the time of writing there are some estimates. Of the employees covered by the Social Dialogue at Shop Level study commissioned by the Polish Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, MPiPS) under the Human Capital Operating Programme (Systemic Support for Social Dialogue sub-action), 28.9% were employed at establishments for which a collective labour agreement had already been signed, 50.8% were not covered by any such agreement, and every fifth respondent was unable to indicate whether their employer is bound by any collective agreement.

Collective agreements applied most frequently to persons employed at state-owned enterprises and at government institutions, at State Treasury companies (52.2% of respondents representing this sector), at employee companies (41.8%), at mining and mineral extraction operations (85%), at electricity, gas, and water generation and supply operations (65.7%), and at enterprises with workforces greater than 249 and thus qualifying as “large” (39.1%). In other words, collective agreements are most prevalent at state-owned companies and at large enterprises.

The author of this part of the project, Jacek Męcina, believes that these results indicate that presence of a trade union is a prerequisite for execution of a collective labour agreement. Of the respondents employed at unionised enterprises, 40% were covered by a collective labour agreement.

  1. Multi-employer agreements are registered by the MPiPS. As of 31 March 2009, there were 169 multi-employer agreements executed in Poland, covering some 500,000 workers (i.e. 3.2% of all Polish employees). Of this number, many are employees of local self-government bodies and of certain state-owned enterprises, of the energy industry, of the defence and aviation industries, and of the railroads.

At the time of writing no data is available on significant collective bargaining developments concerning pay or working time.

2.1 Other main themes that featured in collective bargaining

Collective agreements in Poland continue to have limited effectiveness in serving one of the main objectives of decentralising employment relationship regulation, with no possibility of departure from the statutory provisions.

In the Polish labour market, employers may avoid collective agreements, opting instead for in-house work rules and remuneration rules and for individual employment contracts as the basic means of regulating employment relationships.

3. Legislative developments

Early 2009 saw the coming into force of the legislative Act of 21 November 2008 regarding amendment of the Polish Labour Code (Dz.U. No 223, item 1460), designed to bring elements of Polish law in line with European Union rules.

In its amended form, the Labour Code imposes upon employers new duties with respect to occupational health and safety. And thus, where there obtains the possibility that employees may be exposed to a hazard to life or limb in their workplace, the employer must provide them with instructions concerning interruption of work and escape to a safe location. The new laws also require employers – as of early January 2009 - to cooperate with employees in drawing up lists of dangerous tasks which, given their nature, must be performed by at least two employees (so that they can alert each other of danger). Also since early January, an employer must designate employees who are responsible for administering first aid, for evacuation, and for fire safety (the latter must gain certification by completing a special course).

The legislative changes also apply to molestation in the workplace, expanding the very definition of “molesting” as well as strengthening job protection. The new definition of molestation refers not only to violating employees’ dignity, humiliating or demeaning them, but also to creation of an intimidating, hostile, or humiliating atmosphere in the workplace. An employee who extends any kind of assistance to a victim of molestation on the job now benefits from protection, including a safeguard against dismissal. They are required to declare that they were dismissed as a result of their involvement in aiding a victim of molestation. However, companies are under no legal obligation to justify dismissal of persons retained on the basis of fixed-term contracts.

Another legal instrument which came into force in 2009 is closely linked to the financial crisis – the legislative Act of 22 August 2009 regarding relief from the effects of the financial crisis for employees and employers, an element of the “anti-crisis package”. The overriding objective of this statute is to protect jobs.

The legislative Act regarding amendment of the Act on employee information and consultation brought (in July 2009) changes to the rules on consulting employees, for instance as regards elections to employee councils (the minimum number of employees needed for a motion to establish a council was reduced) and their financing (this duty is incumbent on the employer).

4. Organisation and role of the social partners

Research presented by Juliusz Gardawski in his paper “Social Dialogue in Poland - Theory, History, Policy” (published by the Warsaw School of Economics and the MPiPS in 2009 – in Polish) suggests that the year 2009 brought relative stability of the social partner scene in Poland.

The union movement Poland proceeds along three major currents:

- Nationwide union organisations qualifying as “representative” within the meaning of the legislative Act of 6 July 2001 regarding the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic affairs:

  • Independent Self Governing Trade Union “Solidarity” (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy “Solidarność”, NSZZ Solidarność)
  • The All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ);
  • The Trade Unions Forum (Forum Związków Zawodowych, FZZ);

- Trade union organisations operating in several employing establishments at local or regional level which, although some may be quite large, do not meet the legal criteria for “representativeness”;

- Autonomic trade unions registered within a single employing establishment.

Of all full-time employees of Polish trade unions hired at employing establishments at which unions could, theoretically, be established, only approximately 20% belong to a union.

Research indicates that, of the employees declaring union membership, 47.8% belonged to NSZZ Solidarność, 29.9% to OPZZ, and 18.3% to FZZ. Membership in unions other than the three major ones mentioned above was declared by 4% of the respondents.

The typical union member is slightly more likely to be male (28.2% of the respondents) than female (21.9%). Education does not appear to have a major impact on differentiation of union membership; the older the employees and the longer their record in employment, however, the greater the statistical chance that they belongs to a union.

What might be termed “excessive pluralism” is proving to be a problem for the union movement at shop level. This proliferation of minor organisations and resulting fragmentation of the membership base has provided impetus for debate of the criteria for representativeness of trade unions.

Much like the trade unions, Polish employer organisations are differentiated in terms of their organisational structure and their membership base. As with the unions, they are organised in confederations: Confederation of Polish Employers (Konfederacja Pracodawców Polskich, KPP), Polish Confederation of Private Employers “Lewiatan” (Polska Konfederacja Pracodawców Prywatnych “Lewiatan”, PKPP Lewiatan), Union of Polish Crafts (Związek Rzemiosła Polskiego, ZRP) and into homogenous organisations (Business Center Club, BCC).

Juliusz Gardawski maintains that, despite certain conversion processes now in evidence, Polish employer organisations largely retain their unique characteristics, thus making for some diversity. And thus, KPP has strong roots among the major industrial groups, whether privatised or still owned by the Polish State Treasury, its membership also includes some large foreign enterprises. PKPP Lewiatan tends to attract entrepreneurs based in Poland as well as in other countries; ZRP, finally, assembles small and medium-sized enterprises.

5. Industrial action

5.1 Statistics

The Central Statistical Office for Poland (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS) has noted 46 strikes during the first three quarters of 2009, involving a total of 21,800 employees (19.3% of the aggregate workforce of the employing establishments concerned). During the same period in 2008, by comparison, there were 12,800 strikes, involving 208,500 employees. Working time lost to strikes in Q1-Q3 of 2009 amounted to 68,400 working hours, i.e. three hours for every participant; in 2008, the analogous figures were 1,407,600 working hours and 7 working hours respectively.

5.2 Significant strikes and disputes

Employee protests were most usually caused by announcements of privatisations.

One privatisation-related protest was staged at ENEA, one of the largest energy companies in the Poland. Unions active at ENEA launched a collective dispute with its management, demanding that the timeframe for the company’s privatisation be delayed until such a time as the global economic crisis has abated so as to avoid depressing the company’s price.

Another widely commented protest was against the planned privatisation of KGHM Polska Miedź, the copper mining conglomerate of approximately 30 companies with an aggregate workforce approaching 19,000.

A demonstration expressing support for the striking employees of the heavy industry group H. Cegielski in Poznań drew 3,000 attendees. The workforce of Cegielski is facing group redundancies due to a dramatic fall in orders from the shipbuilding industry (the effort at restructuring the Polish shipyards has been largely unsuccessful).

No changes to the regulatory environment took place in 2009.

6. Restructuring

In 2009, restructuring at Polish enterprises proceeded along several key tacks:

  • Privatisation. As it assumed power, the current governing coalition promised that it would complete privatisation of Polish state-owned enterprises. Measures taken by the government in 2008, however, did not translate into any significant progress in this regard – certainly not in terms of revenues from privatisation.The global economic crisis has exerted a negative impact on Polish public finances. One measure taken in hopes of assuaging this impact was comprised in modification of the national privatisation plan for the years 2008-2010, adding 62 new companies to the list of state-owned enterprises to be privatised (the original list included 740 entities). By divesting its stakes in KGHM Miedź Polska, in a number of energy companies, one of the fuel producers, and in other enterprises, the government hopes to secure revenues exceeding EUR 9 billion by the end of 2010. The largest union organisations have decried the government’s privatisation plans as unacceptable.
  • Employment restructuring, first and foremost by way of group redundancies. Over 2009, Polish employers shed twice as many jobs as in 2008. Group redundancies extended to 69,900 employees nationwide.
  • Improving employee skills. The raft of anti-crisis legislation gave enterprises afflicted with temporary financial problems access to public funds earmarked for – among other purposes – employee training. In accordance with the applicable laws, employers who establish a training fund at their employing establishment are eligible for subsidies towards training and postgraduate study for their employees, provided that such courses are justified by the employer’s current or anticipated needs. The maximum subsidy per employee is set at 80% of the training/degree cost, subject to a cap of 300% of average monthly remuneration in the last quarter. These subsidies have proved to be very popular among Polish companies

7. Impact of economic downturn

Research carried out in 2009 indicates that:

  • The greatest degree of pessimism prevails among employers, with almost a fifth declaring that they have suffered the impact of the economic crisis;
  • The effects of the crisis have been most pronounced at private companies with foreign shareholdings;
  • The crisis was most punishing for large entities, and for the industrial and processing sectors;
  • Services, municipal utilities, and construction were the least affected;
  • Effects of the economic problems included recruitment freezes, foregoing temporary hires, redundancy of employees eligible for retirement benefits, and paring down remuneration packages.

August 2009 saw the coming into force of the anti-crisis legislative package agreed upon in consultation with the trade unions and the employers. The measures subsumed under the package included:

  • Extension of settlement periods to 24 months, enabling more flexible use of working times;
  • Introduction of flexitime, with employers enjoying more freedom to set work commencement and ending times so as to bring the working day in line with current business exigencies;
  • Limitation of fixed term contract use, with employers allowed to retain workers on the basis of fixed-term contracts for periods not exceeding 24 months;
  • Introduction of salary supplements, with employees whose working time – and, consequently, salary – are reduced by her/his employer eligible to have part of the difference reimbursed by the state;
  • Introduction of training subsidies, with employers facing a slowdown of operations receiving the possibility to put their workers on part-time schemes and assign them to training with a study grant corresponding in value to the unemployment benefit.

The Industrial Development Agency has rolled out a PLN 5 billion programme for supporting Polish companies designed to prop up the arms/defence industry and to encourage innovation in troubled local employment markets and in the heating and railway industries.

8. Other relevant developments

For most of 2009 there was much focus on the conclusion of the privatisation of the Polish shipyards. The improprieties affecting restructuring of two shipyards (as pointed out by the European Commission in 2008) were rectified, and buyers were found. The price, the technical details of the sale, and the identity of the buyers were widely commented in their economic as well as political aspects.

Rafal Towalski, Institute of Public Affairs

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