Poland: Latest developments in working life Q1 2019
An upcoming general strike in the teaching sector, a demand for wage increases from civil judiciary personnel and the lack of progress regarding tripartite social dialogue are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Poland in the first quarter of 2019.
Teachers prepare to go on strike
Tensions have been growing in the education sector since elementary and middle schools were controversially merged in September 2017. With European (May 2019) and national (October 2019) elections approaching, a variety of socio-occupational groups have been pressuring the government for concessions, including public school teachers. However, a lack of unity within the teachers’ community is hindering their progress.
The two largest unions in the sector, the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP), which is associated with the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ), and the National Section for Education of NSZZ ‘Solidarność’ differ in their positions. The former requests a wage increase of PLN 1,000 gross (€233 as at 7 May 2019), while the latter would accept PLN 650 gross (€152). The third largest union, the Free Trade Union Solidarity Education (WZZ Solidarność Oświata), which is associated with the Trade Unions Forum (FZZ), sides with the ZNP.
One of the factors contributing to the lack of unity among the unions is the strong link between NSZZ ‘Solidarność’ and the government. In the face of the government’s reluctance to grant their pay demands, the ZNP announced a general strike in early March 2019. The strike is due to start on 8 April and is likely to interfere with the final elementary school exams, which are scheduled for 15 April.
Following the ZNP’s announcement, the government opened negotiations with all the unions. However, progress has been slow and there was little prospect of an agreement as of the end of March.
Judiciary personnel demand wage increase
The threat of industrial action in the teaching industry inspired workers in the public sector, who have been subject to a wage freeze since the times of the former government. Civil employees of the judiciary (law courts, public prosecutor administration, etc.) claim that the pay conditions have become intolerable, as only 6% of employees earn more than PLN 2,850 net (€665) and 16% only receive a maximum of 1,800 PLN net (€420) per month. As a result, 20,000 workers have left the sector over the past four years (not including those who retired) and the number of vacancies is significant.
On 5 March, unions associated with employees in the civil judiciary sector organised a street rally called Ostatki u Premiera (Carnival at the Prime Minister’s). These unions included the Inter-company Union of Judicial Staff of NSZZ ‘Solidarność’, the Trade Union of Employees of the Judiciary and the Independent Trade Union of District Courts. Reportedly, over 3,000 participants took part. The key demands included a pay raise of PLN 450 gross (€105) – along with the increase of PLN 200 gross (€47) that the Minister of Justice promised in late 2018 – for each position in 2019 and in the coming years.
Tripartite social dialogue stalls
While tripartite social dialogue was relaunched in Poland in 2015, progress since then has been limited. The Social Dialogue Council (RDS) failed to produce a tripartite resolution for the second year in a row, while the government has grown increasingly reluctant to consult with social partners on matters relating to work and employment relations. Even expanding the composition of representative social partners at national level in late 2018 (by including the Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers (ZPP)) did not lead to any positive developments.
The ongoing dispute with teachers illustrates this lack of progress, as the RDS has been marginalised within the process and negotiations are taking place in bilateral form only, between the government and the unions. In addition, the talks are being conducted separately, between the government and NSZZ ‘Solidarność’, and between the government and the combined representation of ZNP and WZZ Solidarność Oświata, respectively.
With the double elections approaching and the increasing polarisation between the ruling and opposition parties, political undertones are being attributed to all industrial actions in the public sector (regardless of the intentions of the unions).
A generous social policy agenda presented by the government as a core of their election offer triggered expectations among certain occupational groups, including teachers. However, the promises that have already been made are expected to place a heavy burden on public finances, which makes a compromise with teachers unlikely. In this case, Poland will face the largest strike in the education sector since 1993.