Poland: Latest working life developments – Q1 2017

Continuing debate on the proposal to curb Sunday trading, a strike by teachers against the reform of compulsory education and the implementation of employment-related regulations are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Poland in the first quarter of 2017. 

Debate regarding ‘free Sundays’ continues

In late March the government agreed to continued work on the draft law aiming at curbing Sunday trading (and some service facilities) presented by union confederation Solidarity as a civic initiative. The main point of the proposal is to ban trading on Sundays, except for:

  • two consecutive Sundays preceding Christmas;
  • the last Sunday before Easter;
  • the last Sunday in January, June and August;
  • the first Sunday in July.

The Cabinet’s acceptance of the initiative is conditional on the resolution of certain issues; several provisions in the draft law have been highlighted as problematic or faulty from the legal point of view (for instance, the definition of ‘logistics centre’ is currently too vague).

Teachers strike against reform of compulsory education

Following the ineffective battle to a stop a highly controversial reform of compulsory education, the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) called for a general strike on 31 March. The reform replaces the three-tier school system with a two-tier one by abolishing middle schools. Many of them are to be merged with elementary schools, resulting in high numbers of teachers competing for the same positions.

The strike was a moderate success, as far as mobilisation was concerned, because reportedly only 37% of schools and pre-school facilities (roughly 6,500) participated. One of the reasons for the relatively small turn-out was the refusal of ‘Solidarity’ (NSZZ Solidarność), the second largest sectoral union, to support the strike. While the reform was the main motive for the strike, the Ministry of Education refrained from taking an official position, claiming it was not involved, as it is school principals who formally act as employers to their staff. ZNP is continuing to collect the required half a million signatures for a petition for a national referendum on the reform, although such a vote would still need to be approved by parliament.

New important regulations come in force

Several important regulations came into force in the first quarter. On 1 January, an hourly minimum pay rate of PLN 13 (€3 as at 19 April 2017) became obligatory. The new law is crucial for approximately 500,000million people, for whom – according to 2016 data from the national statistics – working on the basis of freelance contracts (umowa zlecenia) is their main form of activity in the labour market.

The regulations also apply to the self-employed, affecting an even larger number of people, while the share of the total working population for whom civil law contracts are the only steady source of income is estimated at 4%–6%.

Since the beginning of the year, employees’ right to appeal against their dismissal in the labour court has been extended from 7 days (in case of discharge with notice) and 14 days (in some specific circumstances) to 21 days.

However, not all changes to the law are employee-friendly. From 1 January, small businesses will be bound by social funds regulations (PDF), with the threshold for the establishment of such a fund (the major form of occupational welfare in Poland) being raised from 20 to 50 employees.


The debate on Sunday trading wis due to enter parliament. The conflict in education has not been resolved and will probably resurface when schools begin making teachers redundant, although the Ministry of Education has consistently maintained that the reform will not lead to job losses. It remains to be seen whether the unfavourable changes – from the employees’ point of view – regarding social funds (the amendment had not been subject to a formal tripartite debate, stirring some controversy) will mark the end of a ‘pro-social’ phase of the government policy and the start of a ‘pro-business’ chapter.

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