Poland: Latest working life developments – Q4 2016
Protests against the proposed education reform, a new chairperson for the central tripartite body, the return of lower retirement ages and deregulation measures for businesses are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Poland in the fourth quarter of 2016.
First anniversary of Social Dialogue Council
In October, the annual term of the chair of the central tripartite body – the Social Dialogue Council (RDS) – came to an end and Piotr Duda, head of NSZZ Solidarność trade union, was replaced as chair by Henryka Bochniarz, President of the employer organisation, the Lewiatan Confederation. In line with RDS regulations, Ms Bochniarz’s successor in late 2017 will be a representative of the government.
The opening year of RDS's existence was hectic. A number of high-profile initiatives were debated and some have already been translated into legislation, as reported in the third quarter of 2016. Others, including amendments to the Trade Unions Act to extend the right of association are still being discussed by social partners and the government.
Conflict in education continues
The forthcoming major reform of compulsory education (the three-tier system is to be replaced with a two-tier one, with middle school removed) was met with strong resistance from public schoolteachers and many parents.
In late November, the Polish teachers’ union (ZNP) organised a nationwide protest under the slogan 'No to Chaos in Education'. A large element of the protest was a massive demonstration in Warsaw on the day of the first reading of the draft legislation in parliament. Estimates of the number of participants differ: from several thousands to as high as 50,000, according to the organisers. Nevertheless, union pressure did not affect the decision of the deputies, the majority of whom voted in favour of the proposed changes.
Undeterred by the decision, two organisations contesting the reform (ZNP and a civil society movement known as Parents Against the Education Reform) put pressure on the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, to veto the new law. In mid-December, the two organisations held a demonstration in front of the presidential palace and delivered their petition (supported by more than 250,000 citizens) against the reform. The President told the protesters that the decision about whether to sign or reject the law was still pending and would not be taken until January.
Former retirement age restored
During November and December, parliament voted in favour (PDF) of restoring the former retirement ages of 60 for women and 65 for men. This vote overturned the reform introduced by the former government in 2013, which had set the retirement age at 67 for all. The President had pledged the reform while campaigning for the office in 2015. He promptly signed the bill into law.
Business activities deregulated
A business deregulation package was adopted by parliament (PDF) and signed into law by the President in December. The complex package, called 'The 100 Changes for Companies', introduced various changes including:
- raising the threshold at which an employer must establish a company social fund ((zakładowy fundusz świadczeń socjalnych) from 20 to 50 staff on the payroll;
- raising the threshold at which an employer must introduce pay regulation (regulamin wynagradzania) from 20 to 50 staff on the payroll;
- simplifying the rules on issuing records of employment to employees leaving their current job.
The retirement age was lowered, despite reservations expressed about the impact the move will have on the pensions system. The President is expected to take a decision on the education reform in January. Depending on his decision, the conflict may either be appeased or will escalate further. The amendments to the Trade Unions Act still wait to be settled. Tripartite social dialogue at central level will face new challenges under the non-union presidency of the RDS.