Positive outcome of strike action at K-Tel
K-Tel Sp. z oo, with head offices in Poznan, has been operating in the telecommunications sector for over a decade. In January 2006, K-Tel signed a contract with Telekomunikacja Polska SA, the national telecoms operator, to maintain the telecommunications infrastructure in Bielsko Biala and the surrounding district in southern Poland. Despite this expansion, K-Tel’s management made plans to reduce staff numbers and to modify the wages system. In response to these plans, employees at K-Tel’s Bielsko Biala branch launched a protest on 5 April 2006, which eventually evolved into a hunger strike. The dispute was resolved on 21 April with the signature of an agreement accepting most of the union’s demands.
In January 2006, K-Tel Sp. z oo won a tender for maintenance of the Telekomunikacja Polska SA (TP) telecommunications infrastructure in the Bielsko Biala area in southern Poland. To handle these new responsibilities, K-Tel decided to hire all of the employees of other companies who had been working on maintaining this network in Bielsko Biala. However, soon after, K-Tel’s directors began to consider cutting back on employment and wage levels for its remaining employees. The workforce became aware of these plans in the second half of March 2006, whereupon over 150 K-Tel workers immediately joined the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezalezny Samorzadny Zwiazek Zawodowy ‘Solidarnosc’, NSZZ Solidarnosc). Their reasoning, apparently, was that, by joining a union, they could increase their chances of retaining employment and remuneration at the same levels; the company’s management, for its part, was hoping to negotiate employment terms on an individual basis with each worker.
As news of the planned redundancies and pay cuts became more detailed, the union activists staged a protest on 5 April 2006: more than 150 workers participated in the strike. After one week, during which the protesters maintained a sit-in at K-Tel’s offices, eight of the union members went on hunger strike. The next day, on 13 April, the hunger strikers were joined by four more people, with another 148 workers protesting by other means.
On 15 April, the head of the National Labour Inspectorate (Panstwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP), Bozena Borys-Szopa, paid a visit to the workers on strike at K-Tel. During her visit, she assured the strikers that PIP control proceedings then underway at K-Tel would soon be completed, providing an authoritative answer as to whether the company had been violating occupational health and safety rules, as alleged by K-Tel employees. Moreover, Chair of the Labour Protection Council, Stanislaw Szwed – who initiated the PIP control proceedings – suggested that work safety for the remaining employees might be compromised if the redundancies at K-Tel proceeded as planned.
On 20 April, several hundred NSZZ Solidarity members from neighbouring regions announced their support for the protesting employees at K-Tel. Some 400 demonstrators gathered outside the company’s Bielsko Biala offices in solidarity with the workers, demanding that the company’s directors start negotiations with the striking employees.
The protest ended on 21 April when talks between K-Tel management and employees – with the mayor of Bielsko Biala also participating – ended in agreement. As part of the agreement, the workers received a three-year guarantee of employment and an assurance from the directors that the idea of reducing wages would be abandoned.
Plans for downsizing employment and restructuring remuneration schemes are also being proposed at other companies that originally formed part of the Telekomunikacja Polska monopoly and that now work in cooperation with it – such as Netbud, a telecommunications company operating in the northern part of the Masovian region in central Poland. The outcome of these cases remains unclear.
Piotr Sula, Institute of Public Affairs and Wroclaw University