Poland: Latest working life developments – Q3 2017

The new two-tier education system, new regulations on a basic minimum wage for medical staff in public healthcare, and a small rise in the national minimum wage are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Poland in the third quarter of 2017.

Education reform: teachers’ protests weaker than expected

The new school year began on 1 September 2017, bringing the implementation of the new two-tier education system. It replaces the previous three-tier system by erasing the middle school (gimnazjum). The government pushed the reform through, despite firm resistance from the largest sectoral union – the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) – and a petition of nearly one million signatures calling for a referendum on the reform.

According to ZNP estimates, the reform is likely to leave at least 7,000 teachers jobless, while 21,000 will have their working time cut. Faced with the uncompromising stance of the government, ZNP called for a national protest of teachers as the new school year was about to start. However, the response was disappointing with only a small group protesting in front of the Ministry of Education on 4 September.    

New rules for minimum wage in the health sector

Following the adoption of a new law on calculating the minimum basic wage for medical staff in healthcare facilities (PDF) in June 2017, the regulation was signed by the President in July and came into force in mid-August. The new law defines the method of determining the basic wage for medical workers in healthcare facilities, and sets a timetable for reaching the target levels. The minimum pay level for each occupational group in the regulations must be reached by 2022.

The main frame of reference for calculating the minimum wage is the average national wage. However, the regulation also introduces an interim period (until the end of 2019) before this is used, during which the calculations will be carried out using a fixed amount of PLN 3,900 (€900 as at 25 October 2017).

The regulation covers 10 occupational groups, including:

  • physicians/dentists (specialists, non-specialists and interns treated separately);
  • pharmacists, physiotherapists and other medical professionals (with higher education plus specialist qualifications, higher education and no specialisation, no higher education);
  • nurses/midwives (higher education and specialisation, higher education and no specialisation, no higher education).

However, the government’s move was considered unsatisfactory by the Alliance of Medical Professions (PZM), a loose coalition representing various occupational groups (such as doctors, nurses, and radio technicians) in public healthcare. PZM had delivered its own draft regulation to the parliament in May, demanding that specialist doctors should receive at least three times the average pay, with non-specialist doctors getting twice the amount, and nurses, midwives, physiotherapists and technicians getting at least one-and-a-half times the average pay. The draft was blocked in the parliament, but PZM has continued to pressure the government.

National minimum wage to increase in 2018

In 2018, the national minimum wage will increase by 5% (PDF), from the current PLN 2,000 (€471) to PLN 2,100 gross (€495). The government took the decision to introduce the increase following the failure by the Social Dialogue Council (RDS) to reach agreement in July 2017 – accompanied by a heated dispute between employers and trade unions.

Trade unions had pressed for a substantial improvement in the minimum wage, with national trade union federation Solidarity (NSSZ ‘Solidarność’) demanding a rise of PLN 160 (€38), while the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ) and the federation Trade Unions Forum (FZZ) said the minimum wage should be raised by PLN 220 (€52).

However, the employers insisted on trying to keep the increase as low as possible. As the law requires forecasted inflation to be taken into account, the employers suggested that the bottom line for the minimum pay rise was PLN 49 (€11.55). All representative employer organisations unanimously agreed that a rise of PLN 50 (€11.79) would not only be fair but responsible; they argued that the many changes in the minimum wage had to be taken into account as it had more than doubled between 2007 and 2017. Besides the national minimum monthly wage, the minimum hourly rate (applicable for civil law contracts) for 2018 was set at PLN 13.70 (€3.20).

Commentary

The impact of the education reform on employment will be revealed in the following months. The teachers, as an occupational group, appear apathetic, with trade unions showing no mobilisation capacity, not to mention a growing hostility between OPZZ and Solidarity. The failure of the RDS to reach agreement on an increase in the minimum wage is yet another symptom of a crisis developing in the tripartite social dialogue. The introduction of the minimum wage regulation for medical staff is a half-way attempt to appease the pay-related tensions in public healthcare, but the medical staff (especially resident physicians) are not satisfied and continue to put pressure on the government.

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