Political parties agree to cooperate with social partners on social pact

The social partners represented on the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs have publicly appealed to the leaders of Poland’s political parties, imploring them to rise above their political squabbling and to focus on overhauling the Polish state and instituting a new social pact.

Position of the Tripartite Commission

The legislative act of July 2001, regarding the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs (Komisja Trójstronna ds. Spoleczno-Gospodarczych) and the regional social dialogue commissions, entitles representative organisations of the Tripartite Commission to express their views on matters of public interest (PL0502105F). These representative organisations currently comprise three trade unions and four national-level employer organisations.

In exercising this right, the social partner organisations invited the leaders of the political parties represented in the Polish parliament to a meeting on 6 October 2006. The trade unions and the employer organisations jointly underlined that the escalating rows between Polish politicians generate tensions that are not conducive to the public interest.

The social partners took this opportunity to invoke the proud traditions of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezalezny Samorzadny Zwiazek Zawodowy ‘Solidarnosc’, NSZZ Solidarnosc). It was also an opportunity to recall the enormous scale of changes that Poland has gone through since 1989, and to highlight the looming problems for Polish citizens who have yet to benefit from these changes.

Need for a social pact

Before the meeting, the social partners emphasised the opportunities that are available to Poland in the current socioeconomic situation, including the benefits of EU membership and favourable economic trends. Problems were also highlighted, especially political conflicts that can cause repercussions for industrial relations. The social partners felt that, if a social agreement could be readily drawn up, it would help overcome the political stalemate and would allow opportunities to be availed of. This agreement, they maintain, should be similar to the pacts made on the eve of major changes in other European countries such as Ireland or Spain.

The trade union activists and employer representatives cited the Tripartite Commission’s resolution from March 2006 announcing the start of work on a pact, with the working title Economy – Work – Family – Dialogue. The pact aims to address the following six problem areas:

  • job creation, employment policy and labour market institutions;
  • conditions conducive to social, economic and business development;
  • social security;
  • family policy;
  • healthcare;
  • social dialogue, social partnership and civil society.

Steps to improve relations

Following the March 2006 announcement, the Tripartite Commission’s individual task forces have been analysing each of the abovementioned themes in detail. Their analysis identified the fact that the most significant barrier impeding work on the social agreement is the unstable political situation; this makes a real national debate about the specific provisions of such a pact almost impossible.

Faced with the possible failure of the project, the social partners called upon the leaders of the political parties to meet and discuss measures aimed at improving their relations and at achieving compromise within the Tripartite Commission – a non-partisan forum, as the social partners went to considerable lengths to emphasise.

Social partners and political parties meet

The hosts of the meeting on 6 October 2006 invited prominent figures from six political parties: Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the current Prime Minister from the Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, PiS), Donald Tusk of the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO), Andrzej Lepper of Self-Defence (Samoobrona), Roman Giertych of the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin, LPR), Wojciech Olejniczak of the Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD) and Waldemar Pawlak of the Polish Workers’ Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL). Of the invitees, Donald Tusk – leader of PO, the second largest party in the Polish parliament – could not attend. Among the social partners, all leading figures were in attendance.

During the course of the meeting, the leaders of the employer organisations and trade unions offered a critical assessment of the political situation in Poland. In their view, the situation has reached a point where long-standing social and economic troubles cannot be effectively addressed. The employers also emphasised that, if work on the social pact is to continue, the present political stalemate must be overcome.

Prime Minister Kaczynski declared his willingness to coordinate the efforts of a specially convened government task force to work on the appropriate agreement with the social partners. Other politicians also announced their desire to cooperate and their readiness to meet with social partner leaders at least once every six months or in the event of any extraordinary circumstances.

Commentary

The results of the meetings are probably best described by Andrzej Malinowski, President of the Confederation of Polish Employers (Konfederacja Pracodawców Polskich, KPP), who stated: ‘I leave the meeting with a feeling of optimism; after all, one can’t be an entrepreneur in Poland if one is not an optimist’. The meeting between leaders of social partner organisations and political parties not only failed to produce any practical results, it also – perhaps inadvertently – ended up illustrating the regrettable state of Polish politics and of the social dialogue which has come to a virtual standstill largely due to the current political situation.

In addition, the absence of Donald Tusk of PO from the meeting certainly does not bode well for the future. If this party is not included in the negotiations, continued work on the social pact will be impossible, to the detriment of social dialogue in Poland.

Further information

In February 2006, one of the four employer organisations represented on the Trilateral Commission proposed a number of changes related to the operations of the central and regional institutions for social dialogue (PL0604029I).

Jacek Sroka, Institute of Public Affairs (ISP)

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