Poland: Latest developments in working life Q2 2019
The suspension of the ongoing national teachers’ strike, the minimum wage level for 2020 and protests from workers in the judiciary sector 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 2019.
Teachers’ strike suspended until September
A nationwide strike in the education sector took place between 8 and 26 April 2019. Led by the largest sectoral trade union, the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP), the strike was announced in early March. The government opened negotiations with all the sector’s trade unions following the announcement, but its proposals did not meet the ZNP’s demands of a pay rise of PLN 1,000 (€231 as at 8 August 2019), later reduced to 30%. NSZZ ‘Solidarność’, the second largest sectoral trade union, was the only one to accept the offer of a 15% pay rise in 2019 and signed a bilateral agreement on 7 April. The ZNP launched its strike the following day.
Middle school exams were scheduled for 10 April and they still took place, despite the strike being underway. This was largely due to the involvement of teachers who decided to suspend their strike action for the duration of exams. With the strike continuing and high school exams scheduled for late April, the government proposed emergency legislation on 25 April that would allow school directors to proceed with the exams even if the teachers remained on strike.
On 26 April, the ZNP announced it would suspend all strike action until September. The union did not give a specific reason for the suspension, but it is widely accepted that the rapid adjustment to the law (which took the key negotiation advantage away from the teachers) and the growing frustration of students and their parents contributed largely to the decision.
In June, the parliament voted to accept the 15% pay rise proposed in the bilateral agreement between the government and NSZZ ‘Solidarność’. However, this did not change the ZNP’s plans to re-launch the strike after the summer holidays.
Minimum wage for 2020 under debate
In June, the government proposed to raise both the national monthly minimum wage and the minimum hourly wage by 8.9%. This would set the new levels at PLN 2,450 gross (€567) and PLN 16 gross (€3.7) respectively.
While social partners on each side have reached a consensus, the views of trade unions and employer organisations differ significantly. Trade unions would like to see a minimum monthly wage of PLN 2,520 gross (€582) – an increase of 12% – and a general wage rise of 15% in the national budgetary sphere (the non-commercial part of the public sector). Employer organisations want a minimum monthly wage of PLN 2,387 (€552) – an increase of 6.1% – and an identical rise for the national budgetary sphere.
The trade unions believe that the minimum wage should continue to move towards equalling 50% of the average pay level (it is currently 46% and the government’s proposal would make it 47%), while the employer organisations insist that the level should be shaped by gains in labour productivity and inflation. Employers of Poland (Pracodawcy RP) claimed that ‘the forecasted labour productivity increase for next year in 3.7%, while the predicted level of inflation is 2.4%. Therefore, the increase in minimum wage should not exceed 6.1%.’
The Social Dialogue Council, the central-level tripartite body, is expected to decide on the minimum wage increases for next year by 15 July. If no agreement is reached, the government will unilaterally decide the new level by 15 September (in this case, however, the increases cannot be lower than the original offer). Considering the huge disparities between the three proposals that have been presented, finding common ground between the social partners seems unlikely.
Judiciary personnel continue wage-related protests
Workers in the civil judiciary system (courts, public prosecutor, etc.) carried out a series of street rallies in March, in protest over pay demands. The government responded by announcing that a new pay system would be prepared and the trade unions then held talks with officials from the Ministry of Justice on the shape of the future regulations.
On 7 May, representatives of the unions engaged in the protest set up a camp in front of the Ministry of Justice to highlight that the issue of a pay rise remained unresolved. In early June, the key demand of the unions – the inclusion of a multiplier rule to the pay system – was introduced to the draft regulation on the new pay system, and the government announced that the regulation would become subject to parliamentary proceedings in the third quarter of 2019.
Talks between the government and the unions continued as of the end of June, while the camp outside the Ministry of Justice remained open.
Elections have dominated the industrial relations landscape and social dialogue so far this year, and this is expected to continue until a new parliament is chosen in the autumn. Public sector employees are likely to keep putting pressure on the government to meet their pay-related demands, but the outcome of the disputes is uncertain. The government did not back down in the face of the strike action by teachers (which was widely expected to aggravate that large occupational group and have an impact on their voting behaviour), but still saw success in the European elections in May. It remains to be seen whether teachers (and other occupational groups) will be determined enough to effectively mobilise after the summer holidays.