Poland: Latest working life developments – Q2 2017

Uncertainty for teachers, disappointment with the proposed minimum wage increase and the continued avoidance of social clauses’by employers are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Poland in the second quarter of 2017.

Uncertainty for teachers in new two-tier education system

On 1 September 2017 when the new school year begins, the replacement of the three-tier system in compulsory education with a new two-tier system – removing middle-schools (gimnazjum) – will finally take effect. Despite controversy and the openly negative view of the largest sectoral union – the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) – the government’s position remains resolute. The ZNP collected nearly one million signatures in the petition for a national referendum on the reform but the government does not, as yet, regard this as sufficient reason to put the reform on hold or for parliament to call a referendum. From the union’s perspective, the main concern is that the reform, once in place, is likely to entail severe job losses (although the government denies this claim). According to ZNP estimates, at least 9,000 teachers will lose their jobs following the introduction of the new system, while 21,000 will have reduced working hours.

Mixed response to minimum wage proposals

From 1 January 2017 there was a substantial increase in the national minimum wage to PLN 2,000 per month (gross) (€475 as at 20 July 2017) from PLN 1,850 (€427.40), which surpassed the expectations of trade unions. The prospects for 2018 are less impressive. At the end of June, the government said it was only willing to offer an additional increase of PLN 100 ( €23.75). This would give a minimum wage earner a net wage of around PLN 1,530 per month (€363.25) in 2018 compared to PLN 1,460 (€346.64) in 2017. This is the main source of trade union criticism.

Even union NSSZ ‘Solidarność – which is largely sympathetic to the government – seems upset, arguing that back in 2009 unions had hoped that the minimum wage would ultimately be raised at least to half the national average wage. This latest proposed increase brings it to 47% of average national pay. The union argues for a rise of PLN 160 (€38). The All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ) and Forum Darczyńców (Forum) call for a rise in the minimum wage of PLN 220 (€52.25)

However, employers view the government's proposal as excessive, since the law requires that forecast inflation is taken into account when setting the minimum wage and this would set the minimum possible rise in the minimum wage at PLN 49 (€11.64). All representative employer organisations maintain that a PLN 50 (€11.87) raise would not only be fair but responsible, considering that the minimum wage more than doubled between 2007 and 2017.

Employers still avoiding social clauses

In the recent report from the Supreme Chamber of Control (NIK), the national auditor reveals a bleak picture of the state of use of ‘social clauses’ (PDF). In 2015, the former government introduced the guidelines of the Council of Ministers for State Administration on including social clauses in calls for tender (PDF). Public administrations are required to include obligations for bidders to employ staff on formal employment contracts. After examining the procurement policies of 29 state and local administrations and companies, supplemented with questionnaires collected from nearly 2,000 local administration units over 2013–2016, NIK established that social clauses were only included in 0.9% of all contracts concluded, representing 17% of their total worth.

Commentary

As the education reform reaches its final stage, and with the new school year fast approaching, the impact on teacher employment will soon be revealed. What further steps the trade unions will take in support of their members this autumn remain to be seen. Although no industrial conflicts are currently foreseen, the ongoing debate on the minimum wage indicates that tensions are rising. Finally, it seems there is much work to be done among public employers who are apparently failing to set an example in terms of socially responsible behaviour, and they need to be encouraged to promote and enforce fair employment and pay practices.

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