Poland: Latest working life developments Q4 2018
Growing industrial tensions at LOT Polish Airlines, several important events for major trade unions, the introduction of employee capital plans and key legal developments 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 2018.
Industrial tensions rise at LOT Polish Airlines
Tensions in industrial relations continued in the fourth quarter of 2018. The most prominent conflict in the final months of the year was the collective dispute and strike action involving LOT Polish Airlines.
The collective dispute began in 2013, as enterprise-level trade unions demanded the reinstatement of the former wage system that was dismantled as part of ‘rescue management’ introduced to restore the company’s competitiveness in 2010. Despite recent general improvements in LOT’s standing, the board still refused to comply with the unions’ demands.
In April, the unions called a strike referendum (a legal prerequisite for a strike). The board maintained the referendum was invalid on procedural grounds and obtained a court order preventing a strike. In May, the head of the Cabin and Flight Personnel Trade Union was suddenly dismissed in highly controversial circumstances. The conflict continued until a strike was announced on 18 October. The board reacted by firing 67 flight attendants and pilots on 22 October.
Under continued pressure from the unions (endorsed by the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)),  the strike ended on 1 November. The parties agreed to ‘keep the social peace for at least 24 months, as long as the law and the agreement provisions are both observed’. The board undertook not to demand any financial compensation from the organisers and participants of the strike and to begin working on new financial regulations. The unions welcomed the decision, but explicitly stated that the collective dispute was not over.
Busy quarter for major trade unions
In the last quarter of the year, a number of important events for major trade unions took place. NSZZ ‘Solidarność’ held its XIX national convention, where Piotr Duda was re-elected as the Chair for the 2018–2022 term. The convention did not effect any significant change in the union’s policies, although some criticism of the government was expressed (e.g. regarding public sector employees and the upcoming reform of tertiary education). 
The third largest national-level trade union organisation, the Trade Unions Forum (FZZ), successfully defended its status as the representative central-level social partner – and, therefore, its seats on the Social Dialogue Council (RDS) – before the District Court for Warsaw in late December. The court positively assessed the FZZ application, which stated that the unions associated with the confederation had 306,000 members in total. The representativeness threshold set by law is 300,000. 
Employee capital plans offer new pension opportunities
The Act on employee capital plans (PPKs) was signed into law in November 2018 and is set to come into force as of 1 January 2019. PPKs are to become the foundation for the third pillar of the pensions system (voluntary and private), and are open to both people with employment contracts and civil contract holders. The means accumulated in PPKs are also inheritable.
The contributions will be shared between employers and employees in the following way: the basic rate is 3.5% of a monthly gross wage (split between the parties 1.5% and 2% respectively), while the maximum rate is 8% of a monthly gross wage (up to 2.5% delivered by the employer and up to 2% by the employee). Each PPK member will receive an annual top-up of PLN 240 (€55 as at 26 February 2018) and a one-time starter lump sum of PLN 250 (€58) from the state.
All entities that employ staff and pay social insurance contributions for their employees are obliged to set up a PPK, with the following exceptions: employers who have already established Employee Pension Schemes (PPE) and deliver PPE contributions of at least 3.5% of gross wages, micro-firms (if all employees activate the opt-out clause), and individuals not conducting business activities.
- Journal of Laws 2018/2215: Act on Employee Capital Plans
Paramedics receive wage boost
In early October, the President signed an act amending regulations relating to minimum wages in public healthcare into law. The new law, adopted in September, sets the path for an incremental increase in the minimum pay received by paramedics by 20% a year until 2021.
- Journal of Laws 2018/1942: Act amending regulations on minimum wage in public healthcare
Legal developments: mixed results for trade unions
There were some important developments in the areas of law making and judicial proceedings in the last quarter of 2018. In terms of law making, the national budget for 2019 was passed without any changes in the level of write-offs to be allocated for occupational social funds (ZFŚS), which will remain frozen at the 2013 level for another year. Trade unions reacted negatively to this decision.
In terms of judicial proceedings, trade unions emerged successful from two legal battles before the Constitutional Court. In the first case, the court upheld the unions’ claim that removing the ‘30-times cap’ regarding the base amount for social security contributions breaches the Constitution. In the second, the court ruled that employers must consult unions while drafting ‘pay regulations’ (a workplace-level regulation determining pay). , 
The key events in the last quarter of 2018 indicate a trend in industrial relations in Poland: the government stays on a unilateral policymaking course, while major tensions and disputes in the public sector (broadly speaking) persist, with only provisional solutions implemented. With European and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019, the pressure on the government in relation to employment relations is likely to grow.