Wave of strikes anticipated
November 2003 is due to see considerable labour unrest across Poland. A general strike at Polish State Railways (PKP) is due to start on 13 November, while a 24-hour warning strike will be staged in the mining industry on 17 November and a protest by healthcare workers is scheduled to start one day later. Finally, between 7 and 26 November, the NSZZ Solidarność trade union will hold 'protest days' around the country.
The conflict surrounding the government’s restructuring plan for the mining industry - which involves the closure of four coal mines and the departure of 28,000 employees from the sector by 2006 (PL0309101F and PL0310103F) - eased towards the end of October 2003, but this will most likely prove to be only a temporary lull. The next parliamentary reading of the draft Act regarding restructuring of the coal mining sector over 2003-6 has been scheduled for 12 November and it appears unlikely that the government will modify its proposals in any significant way. Miners' trade unions have called a 24-hour warning strike on 17 November and this may well be followed by new protests in early December.
Elsewhere, an indefinite general strike at Polish State Railways (Polskie Koleje Państwowe, PKP) is due to start on 13 November. A membership referendum held by the national railworkers' section of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny, Samorządny Zwiazek Zawodowy Solidarność, NSZZ Solidarność) resulted in an overwhelming majority in favour of this protest and, while the participation of other trade unions has not been decided upon yet, it remains a very real possibility. The unions claim that the government has not lived up to the promises it made in July 2003 (PL0308105F) with respect to curtailing the proposed closure of some regional lines and cuts in subsidies for the remaining ones, and also with regard to PKP as a whole. The state budget for 2004 does not make provision for any significant funds for railway infrastructure, while the sector’s employees are concerned about privatisation plans for the PKP group.
Employees in the healthcare sector will begin protest action on 18 November. The financial situation of Poland’s healthcare sector is dire (PL0212102N), with a considerable number of institutions facing bankruptcy. Numerous healthcare institutions have announced their refusal to take part in a tendering exercise on the basis of which the National Health Fund (Narodowy Fundusz Zdrowia, NFZ) will contract health services for 2004. It has recently been announced that most wards at the Jelenia Góra municipal hospital will be closed forthwith. For the time being, the dismissal of the hospital’s director has won a temporary respite from the impending bankruptcy of the hospital, whose debts approach PLN 50 million, but this decision by no means guarantees its survival. In their nationwide protest action, unions active in the healthcare sector will be demanding the payment of outstanding wages owed and the abandonment of plans for further structural change. The protest is supported by NSZZ Solidarność and the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ), the second-largest union organisation in Poland.
NSZZ Solidarność has also announced a series of protest days over 7-26 November, which may well prove to be the most spectacular of the actions planned during the month. These protracted protests are directed primarily against the allegedly 'anti-social policy' of the government. The organisers’ demands include: maintaining remuneration levels; measures for curbing unemployment; social cover for workers made redundant (including unemployment insurance and pre-retirement benefits); a curtailing of alleged repression against union members; and meeting the claims of workers in 'problem sectors' as well as of retirees and recipients of disability benefits. Aside from a march by healthcare workers, no major street demonstrations are planned, but protest events will be held simultaneously in several dozen localities around the country.