Role of Crafts Association in shaping industrial relations

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The Polish Crafts Association is a national organisation, in existence since 1933. It has a dual structure, which is based on the 1989 Crafts Act. The association amalgamates chambers of crafts and commerce, which are self-governed, and also carries out the tasks of an employer confederation, as defined by the Employers’ Organisations Act of May 1991. Moreover, it unites those entities that are not self-governing. This dual character is particularly reflected in the association’s industrial relations.

Evolution of the craft industry

The craft industry has a long tradition in Poland. Indeed, the origins of some organisations belonging to the Polish Crafts Association (Związku Rzemiosła Polskiego, ZRP) date back to medieval times. In the 1930s, the craft industry adopted a more modern form of organisation. By 1947, 1,500 trade guilds were in operation, accompanied by 300 local guild associations, 14 chambers of crafts and one central Crafts Chambers Association (Związek Izb Rzemieślniczych). However, in 1950, the crafts industry started to regress, mostly due to the 'real-socialist vision' of state economic policy, which did not allow for the development of private enterprise.

In 1989, Poland’s craft industry experienced a renaissance due to the enforcement of the Commercial Activity Act, which coincided with the country’s economic and political transformation (PL0410109F). The Crafts Act was also passed that year. This Act established the self-governing structure of the crafts sector, which now consisted of a number of organisational entities: guilds, chambers of crafts and the Polish Craft Association. The role of this economic self-governing structure, which is free and not mandatory, includes:

  • the promotion of commercial, social and professional activities of craftspeople;
  • supervising the organisation and process of apprenticeship, as well as participation in the activities connected with the training of qualified journeymen;
  • advocating the interests of the crafts sector before public administration bodies;
  • providing assistance to members of the crafts economic self-government.

The special role of the crafts economic self-government is also reflected in the regulation concerning consultations with the guilds. This regulation, which constitutes one of the provisions of the Crafts Act, obliges government ministers to consult the Polish Craft Association about those draft legislation which is relevant to the craft industry.

Self-governing organisations

The most fundamental organisations of the crafts self-government are guilds and cooperatives. The guilds unite craftsmen according to the criteria of location and the type of trade. Their tasks include: strengthening the ties within one milieu; social and organisational as well as cultural, educational and commercial activities; advocating the interests of guild members before public administration bodies and courts of justice.

Crafts cooperatives operate according to the rules defined by the Cooperative Law Act of September 1982. Their role is to organise service and production, providing assistance to members in performing their work and leading their own commercial and socio-educational activities. Chambers of crafts are organisations that unite guilds, cooperatives and those craftspeople who do not belong to guilds or cooperatives. The chambers promote craftspeople’s interests, providing training help and advice, as well as promoting professional ethics and organising examinations.

In accordance with the 1982 Act, the organisations of the crafts economic self-government established a national representation in the shape of the ZRP. The ZRP represents chambers of crafts and guilds nationwide. The most fundamental task of the association is to provide assistance to the members in performing their statutory activities, to develop social and professional activities and to promote the best interests of the craft industry. The association also acts as a revisory body to craft cooperatives. Presently, 300,000 out of 2.5 million SMEs are members of craft organisations. These enterprises employ nearly 1.5 million people. The ZRP includes 490 guilds, 271 crafts cooperatives, 27 chambers of crafts and commerce, of which 26 are local chambers and one is a trade chamber. The predominant craft activities are construction and production of construction materials, carpentry, textiles and cloth making, metallurgy, electrical engineering and electronics, and the food industry.

Polish legal regulations do not prevent two or more craft chambers from operating in the same location. It is, however, required that a new chamber be established by at least five guilds. Therefore, the entities represented by the ZRP can have competition locally. What’s more, the lack of affiliation to the ZRP does not prevent chambers of crafts from fulfilling their statutory duties. The competing chambers can organise examinations and issue apprenticeship diplomas and masters’ diplomas. Such chambers have so far been established in two regions - Lubelskie and Górnośląskie. The Lubelskie chamber in Lublin has been in existence for five years and consists of some 400 entities. As for the Górnośląskie chamber, based in Rybnik, it is currently awaiting registration in the National Court Register. The register entry will mean the chamber has acquired legal status and can begin to perform its statutory activities.

ZRP’s role as an employer organisation

As stated by the Employers’ Organisations Act of May 1991, and based on the verdict of the district court in Warsaw, cited by the Trilateral Commission Act (PL0210106F), the ZRP is a representative national organisation of employers. However, the status of an employer organisation does not apply to the guilds, cooperatives or chambers of crafts, which operate as was mentioned above according to the Crafts Act, and unlike the ZRP, are not liable to the provisions of the1991 Employers’ Organisations Act. The guilds of local organisations affiliated to the ZRP can, however, delegate their members to the voivodeship (provincial) committees on social dialogue, as representatives of the ZRP are included in the Trilateral Commission for Social and Economic Affairs and have the right to be represented in the 16 voivodeship committees of social dialogue.

Prior to this, the legislation required that the ZRP demonstrated that:

  • its activities were performed on a national scale;
  • it represented entities which altogether employed more than 300,000 workers;
  • the types of activities led by the federated entities were defined in more than a half of the sections of the Polish Classification of Activities made by the Central Statistical Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS).


The dual nature of the ZRP, which acts as the craft industry’s central self-governing body and as the national employer organisation, makes its representatives uncertain of the position they should assume on the forum of consultation institutions. Within the Trilateral Commission and, even more so within the voivodeship committees on social dialogue, the ZRP representatives tend to follow one of two inclinations.

The first inclination, which is more common, is to represent small and medium-sized enterprises that deal with crafts. However, this inclination is not connected with assuming an active role in collective bargaining deals, because such deals are practically non-existent in entities belonging to craft organisations.. The second inclination, which is less typical, is to represent people whose interests are close, or even identical, with the interests of workers. An example of such action is the ZRP’s activity in the Trilateral Commission in the first half of 2004, when the ZRP took the side of taxi drivers in their dispute with the Finance Ministry (Ministerstwo Finansów, MF) about the looming obligation of installing VAT cash registers in town cabs. The taxi drivers represented in the dispute consisted of both self-employed persons and employees of larger taxi corporations.

This type of orientation is even more distinct in the voivodeship committees of social dialogue, where representatives of local chambers affiliated to the ZRP seem to take a rather lone position among the trade unions and employer organisations - the Polish Employers Confederation (Konfederacja Pracodawców Polskich, KPP), the Business Centre Club, BCC and the Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan (Polskiej Konfederacji Pracodawców Prywatnych Lewiatan, PKPP Lewiatan). However, the ZRP’s participation in the Entrepreneurship Council (Rada Przedsiębiorczości, RP) - a semi-formal platform which unites 11 business organisations (PL0411101N) - could provide the ZRP with an opportunity to end its isolation. (Jacek Sroka, Institute of Public Affairs (Instytut Spraw Publicznych, ISP) and Wrocław University (Uniwersytet Wrocławski, UWr))

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