Union established at Biedronka retail chain

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Unionisation is very low in the Polish retail sector, so the establishment in May 2004 of a company-level section of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (NSZZ Solidarność) at the Biedronka supermarket chain was a notable event.

Trade unions represent only around 15% of all workers in Poland, and a union organisation is active in one in 10 employing establishments (PL0208105F). Unionisation in the private sector is particularly low. This is true of large retail chains (PL0211104F), which are regularly accused of persistent breaches of employee rights. Biedronka, a Portuguese-owned network of 700 supermarket employing almost 10,000 people in Poland, is no exception. In May 2004, the labour inspection authorities monitored 229 Biedronka locations in reaction to press articles about poor working conditions. According to their findings, Biedronka employees worked 12 hours and more per day with no overtime, and had their pay cut by various irregular means, while female employees routinely lifted weights exceeding the health and safety norms. Several cases were referred to the public prosecution service. An improvement in this situation was observed soon after the inspections. Biedronka’s management acquired equipment for moving heavy loads around the stores, and an electronic working time metering system was implemented.

A company-level section of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Solidarność, NSZZ Solidarność) at Biedronka was registered in May 2004 in the city of Poznań. The organisation of employees was coordinated by the NSZZ Solidarność development department. The initial membership was 30, with another 50 Biedronka employees joining in the period up until September. A national NSZZ Solidarność official told the press 'this is only the beginning. Our people haven’t reached all the Biedronka stores yet, but they hold meetings every day, and after each one we have more members.' The union’s representatives also say that they have held a number of meetings with Biedronka’s directors and that these proceeded in a spirit of partnership. The union intends to represent all Biedronka employees, irrespective of whether or not they choose to join. It offers legal assistance to all employees, members and non-members alike.

This establishment of a union organisation within another private enterprise is seen as marking another success for the NSZZ Solidarność development department.

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