Conference on tripartism


EU Presidency Conference on Tripartism in an enlarged European Union

Co-organised by the Danish Ministry of Employment and the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions

Hotel Comwell, Elsinore, Denmark
29-30 October 2002

See also conference information from the Danish Ministry of Employment.

Speech abstract - Barbara Skulimowska
Director, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Poland

Social Dialogue In Poland

  1. Agreement on a "Pact on state enterprise during privatisation" was treated as a great success and the beginning of social dialogue in Poland. And it is the truth, but the circumstances in which it started made a serious impact on the practice of tripartite relations.
    • First of all, at the time of negotiations, there was neither a legal basis nor practice of free collective bargaining (relevant legislation has since been introduced in 1994);
    • Secondly, the initiative of negotiations came from the government, and the reasons for it were to gain acceptance of further transformation and to maintain social peace;
    • Third, differences among social partners (especially trade unions), led to the conclusion of three (separate) pacts;
    • Fourth, the weakness of employers' organisation and the uncertain position of the government (authority and employer);
    • Finally, the lack of trust between participants.
  2. Created in 1993, the Tripartite Commission on Social and Economic Issues was shaped as a consultative body. From the very beginning its main role was to monitor the legislative process on adoption of acts agreed in "Pact". The lack of trust led the parties to a very detailed wording of agreements. Any amendment (even of a legislative nature) was treated as a violation of the agreement. This undermined the role of the Parliament as a legislator.

    The belief that social dialogue is needed by the government only to get acceptance for its policy (to maintain social peace) led social partners to be in a position of assessing every step of a government. Every piece of draft legislation or any governmental document was to be presented to organisations of social partners. They usually criticised it from their particular point of view. Partly it was caused by regulation, which stated that consensus must be reached by all organisations (not the parties) represented in the Commission.

    As was mentioned above, consultations covered documents already accepted by the Council of Ministers so it was extremely difficult for representatives of the government in the Commission to compromise.

    Tripartite Commission used to reach its opinions by "consensus" e.g. when all members agree (by chance after short discussion). But such consensus is different to negotiations. Social partners in Poland do not take any obligations or responsibility for implementation of accepted solutions; they only accept (or not) governmental proposals.

  3. Disappointment with the functioning of the Tripartite Commission led to the idea of a new statutory basis for its creation and activity. In 2001 the Act was enacted. New solutions provided in the 2001 Act are not used, particularly the possibility of conclusion of nationwide agreements (or sectoral collective agreements) between social partners.

    Unfortunately, the pressure of habits was too strong and the old practice (assessment of the government's documents) is still maintained.

    A large number of drafts and documents prepared by the government (social partners consider that almost all areas of state activity are in the scope of their interests) are consulted. That process is time consuming, but it seems that organisations of social partners are not able (because of lack of experts) to go into details of the document (opinions sometimes are negative but without any arguments are without merit). Within 30 days they consult the document with their internal structures (internal democracy is a very sensitive problem but a real one).

  4. A new feature in the 2001 Act is the creation of regional (voivodship) commissions of social dialogue. According to the Act, commissions may give joint opinions on issues, which are in the competence of social partners, local self-government and local administration. Up to now commissions discussed different problems but no joint opinion was taken.

Conclusions

Social dialogue in Poland is not based on autonomous dialogue between social partners. They have had no chance to exercise their strength (not being represented), and have no negotiation skills. They do not know how fruitful a compromise may be. In fact, they are not partners for the government that shares responsibility for solutions of certain social or economic problems of the country. Still, existing disappointment with the functioning of the Tripartite Commission raises several questions, which are discussed in Poland.

Why are such a wide scope of issues consulted only with workers and employers' organisations? (Trade union membership is now estimated at 18%.) This leads to the idea of involvement of other organisations in the process of consultation (professional associations, consumers' associations, self-employed organisations, NGO's).

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