Protective regulations on women's employment amended

Download article in original language : PL0210102NPL.DOC

In July 2002, the Polish government amended the legislative provisions specifying the types of work which women are not allowed to perform. The aim is to improve occupational health and safety standards and, in particular, to protect pregnant and nursing women. The prohibition is not regarded as contradicting equal opportunities provisions.

Article 176 of the Labour Code mandates the government to specify, through an ordinance, conditions under which women cannot be employed (this mandate featured in the Labour Code previously in force, and was preserved in the amended Labour Code adopted in August 2002 - PL0209107F). These conditions provide a framework for specifying the types of work that are forbidden to women. The provision of Article 176 of the Labour Code and other provisions based on it are not regarded as contradictory to Poland's 'supreme' laws, such as Articles 32 and 33 (and in particular Article 33 paragraph 2) of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, which explicitly refer to the equal rights of men and women in public life. The prohibition of particular kinds of work to women is absolute, which means that the consent of a female worker does not authorise the employer to direct her to work in conditions defined in the ordinance as unsuitable for women. Moreover, if a woman is found performing a forbidden type of work, her rights as an employee are considered to have been violated.

The previous ordinance specifying the types of work prohibited to women, enacted on 30 September 1996 (replacing a 1979 ordinance), was amended by the cabinet on 30 July 2002. The full title of the newly adopted ordinance is 'The ordinance concerning the specification of the types of work that are particularly arduous or harmful to the health of women', while an annex to it is called 'The specification of the types of work that are particularly arduous or harmful to the health of women'. The way in which these titles were formulated indicates that the legislator’s intention was not to introduce barriers that could be perceived as discriminatory, but to improve occupational safety standards. The ordinance will take effect at the beginning of November 2002, following a three-month period of 'legal vacuum'.

Under the new ordinance, as before, the conditions of work that are considered particularly arduous or harmful to women include:

  1. jobs connected with physical exertion, the transportation of heavy weights and forced body positioning;
  2. jobs in cold, hot and changing microclimates;
  3. jobs exposed to noise and vibration;
  4. jobs involving exposure to electromagnetic fields, ion and ultraviolet radiation and screen monitors;
  5. jobs underground, below ground level and at high altitudes;
  6. jobs involving exposure to high or low air pressure;
  7. jobs involving exposure to harmful biological factors;
  8. jobs involving exposure to harmful chemical substances;
  9. jobs involving physical and psychological hazards.

The new provisions introduced by the latest ordinance concern: specification of the level of noise and vibration to which pregnant women can be exposed, and of the level of infrasound and ultrasound noise and vibrations affecting the human organism through the upper limbs; and prohibiting pregnant and nursing women from performing jobs in which they would be exposed to ion radiation, as specified in the legislation on nuclear energy. The expression 'pregnant and nursing women' has been replaced by 'for pregnant and nursing women' in other parts of the provision (points 1, 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9 above) to avoid any doubt about the addressee of the legal norms laid down in these provisions. As a result of these amendments, the new ordinance improves the protection of pregnant women and nursing women returning to work, while not significantly changing the substance of the previous ordinance.

The equal status of men and women in public life and at work has been attracting public attention in Poland for several years now. Depriving women of the right to perform certain types of work may seem to contradict equal opportunities policy. However, the intention of the Polish government in amending the protective laws is to improve occupational health and safety standards and, in particular, to protect pregnant and nursing women.

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