Poland. Annual Review 2011

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 28 Listopad 2012



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Industrial relations and political and economic developments in Poland in 2011 were marked by continuity. Parliamentary elections held in October 2011 confirmed the dominant role of the centrist-liberal coalition led by the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), which governed Poland in 2007-2011. A few controversies occurred in legislation process. No major changes in the composition and constituency of national social partners were observed, yet the stalemate in the tripartite social dialogue bodies continued. Working environment was less hazardous in terms of accidents; the quality of work is difficult to measure due to scarcity of data. Despite relatively stable economic situation, the level of industrial conflicts continued to decrease.

1. Political and economic developments (200 words)

On 9 October 2011, the parliamentary elections were held to lower house of the Parliament (Sejm) and the upper house of the Parliament (Senat). The elections confirmed by dominant role of the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), a rightwing-liberal party with affinities to the Christian Democratic movement. In Sejm, the PO won 39,18% votes, the rightwing-conservative Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) obtained 29,89% votes, the liberal Palikot’s Movement (Ruch Palikota, RP) 10,02% votes, the Polish Peasant Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL) 8,36% votes and the Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD) 8,24% votes. In Senat, the PO gained 63 out of 100 seats, the PiS – 31 seats, the PSL – 2 seats and the independent candidates – 4 seats.

As a result of the elections, the coalition of the PO and the PSL, which governed Poland in 2007-2011, was reproduced to form a government led by the Prime Minister Donald Tusk (PO). As the PO-PSL government has proven to be largely disinterested in tripartite negotiations, its continuity meant the further decline of the role of the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs (Trójstronna Komisja ds. Społeczno Gospodarczych, TK). The newly-elected Prime Minister – Donald Tusk – has not appointed a chairman of TK (until the end of January 2012) and no meeting of the Tripartite Commission (TC) has taken place. The stability of the government was considered an important factor supporting the government during the Polish Presidency of the European Council from 1 July 2011 till 31 December 2011. An important novelty on Poland’s political scene was the emergence of the Palikot’s Movement, a liberal party led by an ex-PO MP, Janusz Palikot, which acquired significant support of young people due to its support for cultural liberalism (for instance, the liberalisation of the Polish abortion law).

2. Legislative developments (300 words)

In 2011 there were the following significant legislative developments concerning industrial relations and working conditions (unless stated otherwise, those developments are scheduled to enter into force in 2012)

  • Clause 130, item 21 of the Labour Code came into force in 2011, stipulating that employers are not legally obliged to offer a day off in exchange for a national holiday if it falls on Saturday or other day free of work according to the weekly work schedule; ‘Solidarity’ (NSZZ Solidarność) filed a motion to the Constitutional Court (Trybunał Konstytucyjny, TK), requesting a review of the new regulation to determine its compliance with the Constitution.
  • A working day for people with disabilities in employment was extended to eight hours (previously seven).
  • Uniformisation of sickness benefits available to employees undergoing hospitalisation (paid by social security) was effectuated ending unequal treatment of employees aged 50 and more in that area.
  • Maternity leave was extended by two weeks (facultative part of the leave extended up to four weeks in case of a single child, or up to six weeks in case of multiple birth).
  • Paternity leave was extended up to two weeks and became available also to adoptive fathers on the same conditions as for natural ones, in such case it may be requested within 12 months from the date of adoption (but only until the adoptee is seven years old or up to 10 years of age in case of a child for whom schooling is postponed).
  • Overdue holiday may be used next year, provided the employer agrees, until the end of September (previously, until the end of March).
  • Conditions for eligibility to the ‘birth allowance’ became more strict, as in order to receive the allowance, the applicant has to prove she remained under continuous doctor’s supervision throughout pregnancy.
  • From 1 January 2011 the Act of 3 December 2010 implementing certain provisions of the Directive 2006/54/EC is in force; equal opportunities and equal treatment regulations now apply also to non-employees (working on the basis of civil and managerial contracts), although the extent of protection is not as wide as in the case of employees, to whom Labour Code regulations apply.
  • As of 31 December 2011, the anti-crisis legislation (PL0909019I) expired, in effect Clause 25/1 of the Labour Code (allowing for only two consecutive fixed-term employment contracts) is no longer suspended.

3.Organisation and role of the social partners (300 words)

There are seven national level social partners seating on the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs (Trójstronna Komisja ds. Społeczno Gospodarczych, TK). All the organisations fulfil the representativeness criteria defined by the Act on the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs and the Voivodeship Committees of Social Dialogue of 2001. No changes in the composition of Tripartite Commission occurred in 2011.

There are four representative national level employers’ organisations at the central level:

  • the Business Centre Club, BCC;
  • the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan (Polska Konfederacja Pracodawców Prywatnych Lewiatan, PKPP Lewiatan);
  • the Polish Crafts Association (Związek Rzemiosła Polskiego, ZRP);
  • the Employers of Poland (Pracodawcy Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, Pracodawcy RP).

There are three representative trade union organisations at the central level:

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

Thresholds for representativeness at all levels of social dialogue remain unchanged. No mergers or splits within the major social partners organisations at the central level took place.

The system of tripartite social dialogue remains unaltered, and consists of three dimensions: national (negotiations taking place in the Tripartite Commission), sectoral (dialogue conducted within the tripartite sectoral committees, the number of which is 15), and regional (negotiations taking place in the regional social dialogue commissions, the number of which is 16, as in each voivodship there is a commission).

4. Developments in collective bargaining and social dialogue (350 words)

No precise data are available on the collective bargaining coverage, yet the coverage rate does not exceed 25% and it is diminishing. According to the most recent 2010 report of National Labour Inspectorate (Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP), in 2010 the number of new collective agreements slightly grew as compared to 2009, from 123 in 2009 to 130 in 2010. Simultaneously, the number of additional protocols to existing collective agreements (protocols being the usual mechanism for renewing agreements) continued to decline from 1,876 in 2009 to 1,552 in 2010. The number of agreements to suspend a collective agreement due to the economic problems of employers declined from 206 in 2009 to 130 in 2010. The suspended regulations referred mostly to bonuses, pay increase and employers’ contributions to Employee Benefit Fund.

According to the register of multi-employer collective agreements held by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, MPiPS), as of December 2011 there were 170 such agreements, of which 65 agreements were dissolved by one of their signatory parties and 11 were considered to be ‘dead’ since in each case the signatory on the employers’ side had lost its legal prerogatives to be a part of the agreement. That left 94 multi-employer collective agreements still in force which have covered 390,000 employees, i.e. around 2.9% of the labour force. The multi-employer collective agreements covered mostly the public services employees in the sectors such as railways, the public administration (the Ministry of Defence), the education sector (except for teachers), the state forestry, as well as the military industry, brown coal mining, energy supply, the Polish Telecom and a small part of construction sector.

At the national level, a stalemate in the tripartite social dialogue continued. In September 2011, as a result of the lack of agreement between employers and trade unions in the TK, the government made a unilateral decision on minimum wage increase in 2012 to PLN 1,500 (PL1110019I). Besides an agreement on the increase of income criteria for social assistance and a recommendation to speed up the development of the governmental programme of local governments’ loans for SMEs, the TK was unable to reach any significant agreements.

5. Responses to the economic situation (200 words)

Cross-sectoral and sectoral level initiatives to tackle economic crisis in Poland remained rather weak due to rather limited weak in Poland in 2010. The most heated debate concerned short-term, freelance and temporary employment contracts, with trade unions launching a campaign aimed at their reduction and better regulation (PL1111019I). However, no new legislation followed.

On 31 December 2011, the anti-crisis legislation (PL0909019I) ceased to be valid. As noted by the most recent 2010 report of National Labour Inspectorate (Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP), only a very limited number of employers made use of the anti-crisis regulations to extend the reference period for calculating working time to 12 months via collective agreements.

6. Developments in working conditions(550 words)

As mentioned above, in 2011 the Act of 3 December 2010 implementing certain provisions of the Directive 2006/54/EC came into in force. In 2011 27.5% employees worked on the basis of contracts for limited duration (LFS data for the 3rd quarter of 2011). In particular, young people remained prone to unstable employment conditions (PL1109019I). Throughout the whole year a heated debate on ‘junk jobs’ continued (PL1111019I). National Labour Inspectorate (Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP) reported a falling number of labour law infringements regarding payment of wages (drop by 23%). Overall decline of collective bargaining, weak position of trade unions and limited impact of works councils did not contribute to expansion of consultation and participation practices.

  • health and well-being of workers–including health problems, risk exposure, impact of changes in work organisation, and violence, harassment and discriminations;

Based on public statistics records, workplace safety slightly improved in terms of workplace accidents number which fell by 2.3% (comparison of the first three quarters of 2011 to the analogous period in 2010). Number of working days lost due to accidents also marginally decreased by 0.1%. The physical working environment continued to become safer, with the ratio of persons working in hazardous conditions decreasing from 104.4 to 97.9 (per 1000 employees) between 2009 and 2010 (latest data available). Audits carried out by PIP in 2010 (latest data available) revealed a general increase in the number of employee rights violations; a total number of such incidents discovered amounted to 88 thousands (3% growth comparing to 2009). When sorted by type, most frequently encountered violations occurred in the area of ‘preparation for work’ (25% of all). Other employee rights infringements affecting health and well-being of workers regarded ‘positions and work processes’ (8.3% of all), ‘equipment and machinery’ (6.8%), ‘factors causing hazard and nuisance’ (5.2%), ‘energy systems and equipment’ (3.1%) and ‘working premises and facilities’ (1.8%).

  • developing skills and competences–including qualifications, skills and competences, career prospects and training opportunities

In the first half of 2011 over 600 thousand participants took advantage of activities financed from Operational Programme Human Capital (POKL) aimed at improving qualifications, skills and competences.

As established by the Social Diagnosis 2011 survey research, a minority of adult Poles engage in life-long learning (11% of those aged 25 and more admitted to take part in any form of skills and competences enhancement activities between 2009 and 2011). In general, women are more likely to improve their skills and competences than men (54% female to 46% male among those who answered positively). By far the most popular form of skills and competences improvement are training courses paid for by employers (41%).

  • work-life balance– including issues such as working time, time management at work and social infrastructures.

Based on the LFS data (the first three quarters of 2011), a working person worked 40.7 hours a week on average (38.1 hours in the public sector and 41.4 hours in the private sector); employees spent less time working 39.9 hours per week (38.1 in the public sector, 40.6 in the private sector) than self-employed with 45.1 hours a week.

According to the Social Diagnosis 2011, Poles would welcome the following arrangements allowing to achieve better balance between work and private life: extending of maternity leave (20.3 % of male respondents and 26.3 % of female respondents), more flexible working time (25.6 % of male respondents and 22.9 % of female respondents), and better access to childcare facilities for pre-school aged children (16.2 % of male respondents and 16.8 % of female respondents).

7. Industrial action (200 words)

In 2011, the number of strikes slightly decreased whereas the number of employees on strike increased as compared to 2010. The Central Statistical Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS) reported 53 strikes which involved 18,700 employees. By comparison, in 2010 there were 79 strikes involving 13,900 employees. As the result of strikes, 207,900 man-hours were lost in 2011 as compared to 107,000 man-hours in 2010. The data on the number of days lost has not been yet released. The figures include only official strike actions.

The most important industrial actions took place in the regional railways (PL1108019I) and the mining sector (PL1105029I). On 18 April 2011 in the Jastrzębie Coal Company (JSW) trade unions went on strike to protect jobs during its planned privatisation. On 17 August 2011, a general strike took place in the Regional Railways (PR) following a stalemate in pay talks with management. The strike ended up with an agreement between the board and trade unions on the gradual pay increase by PLN 250 as of 1 January 2012.

In March 2011, nine days long hunger strike of the nurses representing the Nationwide Trade Union of Nurses and Midwives (Ogólnopolski Związek Pielęgniarek i Położnych, OZZPiP) took place in the Sejm. The protesters demanded to legally forbid the practices of employing them on free-lance contracts in the hospitals.

8. Restructuring (250 words)

The most important restructuring projects in 2011 involving job losses were announced in the following sectors: mining, military, postal services, manufacturing, insurance, public administration. New jobs were created in particular in the retail sector and manufacturing.

On 4 January 2011, the coal mining company, Kompania Węglowa (61,500 employees), announced a restructuring plan for 2011. It assumed that 4,400 employees (mostly in administration) will leave the company on early retirement schemes and within a voluntary redundancy programme while 1,881 persons will be recruited during 2011. Trade unions postulated larger recruitment due to labour shortages underground. By June 2011, the number of newly employed reached 1,400 and the plans to create 3,000 more jobs were announced. By the same time, only 331 administrative employees decided to leave the company.

On 26 January 2011, the plan to collectively dismiss 4,900 employees due to the economic conditions of the company was made public by the national postal operator, Poczta Polska. The project was strongly opposed by the company trade unions and employees and its implementation was slowed down. However, the plans of job cuts were again announced in autumn 2011.

Following the negotiations with trade unions, some 1,199 were to be dismissed by the Polish insurance company, Powszechny Zakład Ubezpieczeń from 13 June 2011 until 10 October 2011.

On 5 July 2011, the privatised press distributor, Ruch, announced the plans to cut 2,070 jobs by the end of 2011. The restructuring plans were not opposed by company trade unions.

9. Other relevant developments (150 words)

There were several vital issues in the debate on employment relations present. One of the major problems emerging (yet unresolved) was the concept addressed by the government to gradually raise the retirement age to 67. Trade unions demanded a national referendum regarding the issue. In response to the government’s voluntaristic approach towards minimum wage stetting, Solidarity (NSZZ “Solidarność”) stepped in with the initiative to amend the law. The union prepared a draft legislation to permanently fix the level of the minimum wage at 50% of the national average and managed to collect signatures of over 350,000 citizens under the draft. (PL1110019I). As of early 2012, the draft is discussed in the legislative committees of the Parliament. NSZZ Solidarność also announced a change in its strategy, aiming to decisively distance itself from party politics (PL1106049I). In September, the ‘Euro-demonstration’ took place in Wrocław (PL1109029I).

Jan Czarzasty, The Institute of Public Affairs and Warsaw School of EconomicsAdam Mrozowicki, The Institute of Public Affairs and University of Wroclaw

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