Temporary agency work legislation approved

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In July 2003, the lower chamber of the Polish parliament passed a law regulating temporary agency work (approval by the upper house is to follow). Agency work has been growing in Poland in recent years, and its regulation has been debated for some time. The new legislation defines temporary agency work and lays down rules on its use and on the employment conditions of agency workers.

The past few years have witnessed a brisk increase in the role of temporary agency work in the Polish labour market. The growing popularity of this form of employment arises primarily from the potential for significant savings in payroll taxes and employment costs which it offers to employers. As far as the public authorities are concerned, their willingness to countenance temporary agency work has increased as the economic situation has deteriorated and unemployment has grown (PL0307107F) (particularly among young people born in the 'baby boom' years of the late 1970s and early 1980s). Combined with the poor effectiveness of the various instruments intended to combat unemployment, temporary agency work has come to be perceived as little short of a panacea. Also of significance has been the experience with temporary agency work in the European Union, where – while generally comparatively small in numerical terms – it is an important element of the labour market.

Private business has proved to be most receptive to the signals from the labour market in this area. There are now some 70 temporary work agencies operating across Poland, offering intermediation services to fill staffing needs for retail personnel and office staff. The exact level of temporary agency work in the Polish labour market is not known, but the various estimates put the number of agency workers at around the 100,000 mark, and the figure is expected to multiply several times in the coming years.

As temporary agency work has become more prevalent, the need for a legal framework regulating it has become more pressing. Amendments to employment law in this area have proceeded on a gradual basis (PL0210104N). Amendments to the Labour Code promulgated in 2002 (PL0209107F) defined the general principles governing the operation of temporary work agencies (in Article 2,983) as well as introducing the concept of the 'substitution employment contract' (Article 25.1) - a form of employment for a limited period of time, whereby a temporary employee may be hired during the absence of a regular employee (eg on maternity leave). In February 2003, an amended legislative Act regarding employment and counteraction of unemployment gave temporary work agencies exclusive rights concerning the retaining of employees to provide labour for the benefit of a third party (article 37 item 4) as well as setting out a series of detailed provisions concerning the operation of such agencies (Article 37.5-18). The culmination of this process came with the drafting by the government of proposed legislation addressing temporary agency work in all its aspects in a comprehensive way. The draft received the approval of the Tripartite Commission (Komisja Trójstronna) (PL0210106F) and then proceeded to parliament, where it met with a favourable reception by the lower chamber (Sejm). On 9 July 2003, the lower chamber approved the legislative Act regarding temporary agency work, which must still be approved by the Senate and then signed into law by the President.

The most important provisions of the new temporary work legislation are as follows.

  • The term temporary agency work is defined as performance of the following for the 'user company':
    • seasonal tasks, periodic tasks, or ad hoc tasks;
    • tasks whose timely performance by the user company’s permanent staff would be impossible; or
    • tasks normally falling within the ambit of a temporarily absent employee of the user company.
  • Employees employed by a temporary work agency are assigned to specific positions within the operations of the user company.
  • The temporary work agency employs employees on the basis of fixed-term employment contracts or 'contracts for completion of a specific task' (the latter are contracts regulated by general provisions of civil law rather than labour law [PL0210109F] but, importantly, the new Act will also apply to them);
  • The workers' contracts with the agency must specify the terms of employment - ie the duration and time frames, the place of work, the remuneration, and the qualifications required.
  • The agency, in its capacity as employer, must notify the user company in writing of the principles and conditions governing remuneration of the temporary agency workers.
  • The combined amount of time worked with a single user company by a temporary agency worker over a 36-month period may not exceed 12 months.
  • Employers which have effected collective redundancies in the previous six months may not have recourse to temporary agency work;
  • The user company may not additionally retain its own employees as temporary agency workers.
  • The Act guarantees temporary agency workers a status equal to that of the permanent employees of the user company for the duration of their placement.

The enactment of this piece of legislation will mark the culmination of a long process of regulating temporary agency work in Poland. It is hoped that, in this way, the law – which has henceforth had difficulty keeping up with workplace realities – will finally address the requirements and interests of all the parties concerned, ie the employers, employees and state authorities.

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