Poland: Latest working life developments Q3 2018

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Inconclusive social partner talks on the minimum wage rise, public sector disputes and the latest major changes to legislation 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 2018.

Growing tensions in social dialogue

In September, the government made a unilateral decision to increase the minimum wage for 2019. This was because the Social Dialogue Council (RDS) failed to reach an agreement on the scale of the increase. In line with the Minimum Wage Act, the government delivered a proposal to increase the minimum monthly wage from PLN 2,100 (€489 as at 12 November 2018) to PLN 2,220 (€517) to the RDS in mid-June. The hourly minimum wage was anticipated to be increased from PLN 13.70 (€3.19) to PLN 14.50 (€3.37). However, the RDS meeting on 12 July failed to result in a consensus. Trade unions considered the government’s proposal to be unsatisfactory; NSZZ Solidarność wanted to increase the monthly wage to PLN 2,278 (€530), whereas the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ) went even further, calling for the monthly minimum wage to be increased to PLN 2,383 (€554). According to Henryk Nakonieczny, a member of NSZZ Solidarność, the government delegation informed social partners that the initial proposal was final from their point of view, although the Minimum Wage Act stipulates the necessity for tripartite negotiations regarding the minimum wage. The Trade Unions Forum (Forum Związków Zawodowych, FZZ) boycotted the meeting, with FZZ representative Grzegorz Sikora stating that ‘there is no point in taking part in a discussion if you know it will lead to no outcome before it even starts’.

No agreement was made regarding the initial propositions for the 2019 national budget prepared by the government, nor was any consensus reached on the wage increase for the public budgetary sphere, resulting in escalated conflict and street protests. [1] Ultimately, the government’s decree set the minimum wage for 2019 at PLN 2,250 (€524) per month, while the hourly minimum wage will be PLN 14.70 (€3.42).

Discontent in the public sector escalates

Pay disputes have been escalating in the public sector since the beginning of the year. The rising tensions are primarily a result of steady improvement in the labour market situation and pay pressure leading to growing wages in the private sector. Given that wages in the national budgetary sphere (the part of the public sector remunerated directly from the state budget – for instance, central administration, uniformed services, public education and healthcare) have remained frozen since 2010, the pay gap between public and private sectors continues to widen.

Numerous occupational groups have so far signalled their dissatisfaction by public protests (involving paramedics, resident doctors and teachers) or by other forms of grievance (involving the police). For police officers, industrial action took the form of a ‘work-to-rule’ protest (for instance, on duty officers abstained from ticketing for petty offences like minor road rule violations) and limiting their interventions to verbal reprimanding. [2] In mid-July, other uniformed services (such as the fire service, prison service, border control, customs service and fiscal control) joined in the protest of the police force. In August, paramedics announced further protest action, demanding that the government honour its pledge to increase wages made a year previously. In mid-September, the organisational unit of NSZZ Solidarność picketed the premises of the Ministry of Education, with the organisers reporting that around 5,000 participants took part.[3]

In mid-September, following the failure of tripartite negotiations on public finance, bilateral talks between the government and NSZZ Solidarność, and an ultimatum made by OPZZ demanding a 12.1% pay rise for the public budgetary sphere, a street protest was organised in Warsaw under a ‘Poland needs higher wages’ banner. The Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) also participated in the rally. According to organisers, around 20,000 people took part.

Latest legislative developments

In Q3, several significant regulations were signed into law by the President, following agreements in bipartite talks prior to the legislative process. First, a set of amendments extending the rights of the Social Dialogue Council (RDS) was signed on 19 July (and became binding on 19 August). Second, the Trade Unions Act was amended, extending the definition in the regulation to ‘persons performing paid work’ to allow all workers to start or join a trade union, regardless of the legal basis of their working relationship. This was signed on 25 July and a huge part of the amendments will enter into force on 1 January 2019.

The regulation on setting the minimum wage for public paramedics, which was amended in early September, was awaiting the Presidential signature as of the end the third quarter. The amendments pave the way for an incremental change to the minimum wage of public paramedics, increasing by 20% each year until 2021.

Commentary

The accumulating anguish of public sector employees has become increasingly challenging for the government to handle: they have been zigzagging around demands being forwarded and making declarations to various occupational groups. The special relationship between NSZZ Solidarność and the government has also come under strain. With the ‘election marathon’, which began in October and will run for the next two years (including municipal elections), the government is likely to become increasingly attentive to public sector union voices. On the other hand, the visibly low levels of solidarity and mobility in the labour market cast doubt on whether this will have any effect.

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