Tougher sanctions needed to enforce labour court decisions

The National Labour Inspectorate is responsible for ensuring compliance with labour court decisions. Information gathered as part of its monitoring activity indicates a decline in employer non-compliance. Nevertheless, abuses continue on a significant scale, and have a substantial impact on the employees affected, with some 90% of ignored labour court decisions relating to unpaid wages. The Labour Inspectorate believes that tougher regulations are necessary, and hopes that the legislative amendments being prepared by the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland will adopt more stringent measures.

Non-compliance with labour court

The problem of non-compliance with labour court decisions has lessened somewhat in recent years, according to the National Labour Inspectorate (Panstwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP). In 2003, PIP inspections found that 64% of court verdicts and agreements were disregarded; in 2004, the proportion was 57%, while in 2005, it fell to 50% of court verdicts. Consequently, the number of employees affected by non-compliance with labour court decisions has also decreased. In 2005, some 1,396 employees were thus aggrieved – almost 40% less than in 2004, when 2,310 employees were affected by non-compliance, and almost 48% less than in 2003, when 2,668 employees were affected. The number of non-compliant employers has also declined, from 302 employers (out of the 720 employers who were inspected) in 2003, to 230 employers (out of 717 employers inspected) in 2005.

Of the labour court decisions for which problems with non-compliance were noted, the largest category pertains to cases regarding remuneration (1,024 cases in 2005).

In 2003, intervention by labour inspectors in cases where court decisions were being ignored compelled non-compliant employers to pay overdue wages in 635 cases (36% of the total number of cases). In 2004, some 1,070 such interventions were made (63.5%), and in 2005, the inspectorate intervened in 305 cases regarding non-payment of wages (38%).

Stricter and wider penalty regime proposed

According to press reports, the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland has already completed work on a draft statute on the PIP. This draft takes into account the PIP’s demands for a stricter penalty regime for employers who fail to comply with labour laws. The legislative proposals should meet the expectations of the PIP, as its representatives participated in drafting the statute; the PIP also reiterated its proposals to members of parliament during the State Control Committee session on 5 April 2006.

One of the proposed changes refers to the Polish Criminal Code. As it stands, article 218 entry 1 of this code penalises employers who maliciously or persistently violate employee rights with respect to the employment relationship or to social insurance: such employers are liable to a fine, to a custodial sentence, or even to a prison sentence of up to two years. Article 218 entry 2 imposes similar penalties (although the maximum prison sentence is one year) on employers who refuse to reinstate a previously dismissed employee when obliged to do so by a court ruling.

The PIP is calling for the formulation of a catalogue of cases that would be penalised on the basis of article 218 entry 2 of the Polish Criminal Code. The idea is to criminalise a broader group of cases where employers disregard court decisions enforcing employee rights, thereby including non-payment of wages and other benefits, rather than limiting the law to non-reinstatement of unfairly dismissed employees.

Commentary

At present, it is difficult to say whether these proposals will be included in the amended statute regulating the work of the PIP. However, it is certain that PIP inspectors will be empowered to impose higher fines on offending employers (the fine will be doubled from PLN 1,000 to PLN 2,000 (€516), and repeat offenders will face penalties as high as PLN 5,000 (€1,289)).

Overall, it is hoped that the effectiveness of the PIP may grow, not only on account of the amended Act, but also due to consultations between PIP inspectors and the public prosecution service. The appointment of the new Chief Labour Inspector is welcomed in advancing this new determination. As of 15 March 2006, this position will be held by Bozena Borys-Szopa, previously a Solidarity union activist for the Silesia and Dabrowa region and subsequently at national level; Mr Borys-Szopa has gone on record as demanding tougher penalties for employers not respecting the rights of their workers.

Piotr Sula, Institute of Public Affairs (ISP) and Wroclaw University (UWr)

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