Poland: latest working life developments Q2 2018
The latest legislative developments, conflicts in public health and higher education, and a potential new player in the Social Dialogue Council are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Poland in the second quarter of 2018.
Latest legislative developments
After 18 months of work by the Labour Law Codification Committee to produce two drafts to replace the 1974 Labour Code, none of the parties involved were happy with the results. With both national-level trade unions and employer organisations expressing serious doubts about specific provisions of the drafts, the government had to decide between submitting them to parliament, as planned, or freezing the process. On 13 April, the Minister of Labour announced that the government would not be delivering the drafts to parliament, but instead following a strategy of incremental change. Some uncontroversial aspects, such as sections relating to working time and collective dispute resolution, will be proposed as amendments to the current labour code, and these draft amendments are expected to be prepared by the end of the summer.
A complex amendment to trade union legislation, which had been in deadlock for several months, was finally taken forward to parliament. According to recommendations from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2012 and a Constitutional Court ruling in 2015, the Trade Unions Act had violated the constitution by limiting the right to start or join a union to people with an employment contract. After lengthy debate, social partners changed the definition in the regulation to ‘persons performing paid work’, so that all workers can start or join a union, regardless of the legal basis of their working relationship. However, non-employees have to remain in a relationship with their employer for six months before ‘earning’ their right to union eligibility. By late June, the legislation had already been adopted by Sejm (lower chamber) and was under review by the Senate (upper chamber).
Finally, Sejm voted on presidential amendments to the Social Dialogue Council (RDS) Act, giving the Council the right to issue opinions on governmental policy programmes and strategies, motion the Minister of Finance for so-called general interpretation of tax regulations, and conclude bipartite resolutions via electronic communication. The maximum number of social partner delegates to the Council cannot exceed 25 on each side. The amendments need to be approved by the Senate before being passed on to the President.
- International Labour Organization (ILO), Definitive Report – Report No. 363, March 2012, Case No. 2888 (Poland).
Conflicts in public health and higher education
In early 2018, public health doctors with medical residency, who had been protesting about wages, seemed to have been appeased. In a draft legislation of public healthcare financing, prepared within three months, the government made a pledge to agree to demands from doctors – the priority being to raise public spending for public healthcare to 6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In a draft presented on 8 May, the promise was fulfilled but the medical residents were disappointed. In particular, they were unhappy with the lower-than-expected injection of public funds into activities directly related to care and treatment of patients, the fact that the increase in spending for public healthcare to 6% of GDP would be implemented incrementally over seven years, and the lack of provisions guaranteeing improvement of pay and working conditions. 1 As of the end of June, the tensions were still rising.
In early June, higher education academics and students organised a widespread series of protests – involving sit-ins and picketing of university premises in many cities across Poland – contesting forthcoming university education reforms. The biggest controversies included proposals to introduce new supervisory boards, which were seen as a threat to the principle of autonomy in universities. Other issues included wider powers for the Minister of Science and Higher Education relating to the reorganisation of public universities, and changes to the financing system, which are said to be likely to widen the gap between ‘elite’ universities and other higher education establishments – some of which may even cease to exist as a result.
Fifth employer organisation recognised as representative
The composition of the central tripartite body in Poland (known as the Tripartite Commission until 2015 and now known as the Social Dialogue Council, or RDS) has been the same since 2002, with three trade unions and four employer organisations. However, in April 2018, the Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers (ZPP) was recognised by the court of law as meeting the representativeness criteria: the pursuit of operations on a national scale, the required number of employees working for its members (523,000 against a minimum of 300,000), and activity in at least half of the sections in the Statistical classification of economic activities in the European Community (NACE). The organisation expressed its wish to join the RDS (and regional social dialogue councils), but has not yet been admitted.
Following the failure of the major Labour Code reform, it is unlikely that there will be any ground-breaking changes. Instead, the regulatory framework will probably be adjusted bit by bit. It is unclear what will happen in the area of collective labour relations – particularly with collective bargaining, which was expected to be revived when the new collective labour codes were drafted. With the ‘election marathon’ just about to begin (local elections this year, followed by European, national parliamentary and presidential elections in the next two years), industrial conflict focusing on the government is likely to intensify. Finally, the new national-level social partner organisation ZPP is known for its very liberal views on the economy, but whether its presence will make any significant impact on tripartite debate remains to be seen.