Industrial relations developments 2006 — Poland

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 12 June 2007

Jacek Sroka, Piotr Sula

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

In terms of industrial relations, 2006 did not differ significantly from previous years in Poland. Poland’s political scene, meanwhile, has been more stormy; in the context of the planned social pact, longed-for political stabilisation appears to be a major factor in consolidation of social dialogue.

1. Political developments

Please give very brief details of:

  • The government (s) in office during 2006
  • Any general or significant regional/local elections held in 2006
  • Any other significant political events which took place in 2006
  • Any forthcoming national or important regional/local elections or significant political events

If a new government took office during the year, briefly summarise the industrial relations implications.

Throughout 2006, Polish politics was racked by problems with establishing a more or less operative ruling coalition and, subsequently, with keeping it together. Following the parliamentary elections of September 2005, the widely anticipated coalition between Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) and the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO) did not come to be, with PiS deciding to go it alone and proceeding to establish a minority cabinet with Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz at its head. This cabinet won a vote of confidence in Polish parliament thanks to the support of the Self Defence of the Republic of Poland party (Samoobrona Rzeczpospolitej Polskie j, Samoobrona RP), the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin, LPR), and the Polish Peasants’ Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL). In early February 2006, PiS, Samoobrona RP, and LPR signed a stabilisation pact in which they undertook to pursue a common legislative programme (enclosed with the pact were drafts of more than 100 statutes). Soon enough, however, PiS realised that the stabilisation pact does not translate into much practical support for the government, and its politicians decided to submit a motion for self-dissolution of the Sejm (lower chamber of Parliament). This motion failed to pass the parliamentary vote, however; when its gamble failed, PiS set about cobbling together a coalition. In May 2006, a new cabinet comprising politicians from PiS, Samoobrona RP, and LPR (the three parties which had executed the stabilisation pact) was duly installed. This coalition has since survived a number of jolts as well as replacement of Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz with Jarosław Kaczyński, the PiS party chairman, in the post of prime minister; it retains its grip on power as 2007 gets underway.

In November 2006, Polish voters went to the polls to elect their local governments at municipal, county, and regional levels. The first round of voting (with almost 46% of eligible voters participating) yielded the local, county, and regional assemblies as well as some city mayors and village heads; in those localities where none of the candidates for mayor won 50% of the vote, runoff elections were held (voter turnout was approximately 40%).

Considering the November 2006 results from various regions around the country, it appears that almost 82% of all mayor and village head posts were won by candidates backed by local committees, not by the large, national parties; this would mean that there is no direct spill-over from partisan politics in Warsaw to what goes on in individual boroughs and smaller towns around Poland. The large parties exerted the greatest impact in elections to the regional assemblies - the political level constituting, as it were, a nexus between local self governments and the national administration. PO candidates took 27% of the votes for the regional assemblies, PiS - 25%, Lewica i Demokraci (an ad hoc coalition of centre left parties) - 14%, PSL - 13%, Samoobrona RP - slightly over 5.5%, and LPR - roughly 5%. It would seem that, in relative terms, PiS suffered the greatest drop in support since the parliamentary elections in 2005.

As already mentioned, since its very inception, the ruling coalition has been creaking at the joints, its durability exposed to one test after another. The year 2007 holds little promise for a smoother ride, and early parliamentary elections remain a possibility. For the moment being, however, there are no legal/constitutional factors militating in favour of new parliamentary elections; the next national budget has been approved (otherwise, the parliament could have been dissolved by the president), and a motion for self-dissolution would not have the requisite majority supporting it.

2. Collective bargaining developments

Please give details of the number of collective agreements negotiated in 2006 by level (e.g. national, sectoral, company), compared with numbers of agreements negotiated in 2005. Outline any trends/shifts between levels of bargaining, or changes in bargaining coverage.

At the turn of 2006 and 2007, as this text was being drafted, the National Labour Inspectorate (Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP) had not yet published its data for 2006. That said, observation of prevailing trends and anecdotal evidence garnered from interviews suggests that this data will be broadly similar to that published by the PIP for 2005. In 2005, collective labour agreements extended to a total of 119, 604 employees. The downward tendency in the number of collective agreements executed also seems set to continue. Of the 220 single-employer collective agreements recorded in 2005, 152 had been executed following the termination of previous ones; in other words, almost 70% of collective agreements were continuations of previous ones, and only 30% were entirely new ones.

As at late 2005, apart from the single-employer collective agreements, there were 165 multi-employer agreements; these are tracked by the Minister of Labour.

Please give details of significant collective bargaining developments concerning:

  • Pay (including both general trends and the level of collectively-agreed pay increases)
  • Working time (including working time reductions and flexibility agreements).

According to the data released by the PIP in the space of the past two years, it is increasingly seldom that collective agreements include provisions more favourable to employees than the minimum stipulated in the labour laws. Of the 220 in-house collective agreements registered in 2005, 27 included more favourable provisions on remuneration for overtime than the Polish Labour Code, 45 - more favourable provisions on remuneration for work on Sundays and statutory holidays, and 65 - more favourable provisions on remuneration for night time work. As regards aggregate working time, only two agreements provided for longer recreational leave than the minimum required under the Labour Code. For employees performing particularly onerous or dangerous tasks, 14 collective agreements guaranteed extra leave and 13 agreements - shorter working times. Four collective agreements guaranteed periods of notice for employment termination in excess of the statutory minimum, and one agreement provided for shorter working times.

The majority of collective agreements registered during the reporting period provided for anniversary awards and for severance benefits for retiring employees and for ones quitting work for health reasons in excess of the minimum stipulated by employment law.

In is becoming an established trend to simplify the rules governing remuneration, with the effect that all and sundry extras and bonuses (for instance, bonuses recognising duration of employment or work in noxious conditions) are being eliminated as stand-alone benefits and incorporated into the base salary. The remuneration schemes now being adopted by Polish employers are geared at motivating employees to more effective and efficient work; accordingly, the remuneration plans are increasingly likely to incorporate elements such as commissions tied to actual performance or profits.

Please outline, with brief examples where possible, the other main themes that featured in collective bargaining in your country during the year (for example, these might include training and skills, job security, occupational pensions, equal opportunities and diversity issues, or new forms of work).

(In this section, if no statistics [from official or other sources] are available on the number of collective agreements, or of agreements on specific themes, please give your view of how collective bargaining has developed in 2006, referring to the main events of the year from your own monitoring for EIRO purposes.)

Much as in previous years, the collective agreements regulated, first and foremost, remuneration terms for employees (remuneration systems, pay package components and their value) and the principles governing acquisition and collection of additional work-related benefits (anniversary awards, severance benefits for employees leaving on account of age or poor health, ‘golden handshakes’, annual bonuses and the like). Some collective agreements also extended certain benefits to retired employees (in-kind benefits such as free coal deliveries, free transportation, etc). Other extended benefits to family members of employees killed in accidents at work (funeral costs, special posthumous benefits).

As regards regulation of working conditions by way of collective agreements, most concerned working times, elaborating on the technicalities of working time systems, schedules, and settlement periods and setting maximum overtime limits.

It was relatively common for collective agreements to deal with social matters and with health and safety at work (details concerning regenerational meals at work, issue of protective gear, etc). Some agreements dealt with further training for employees, with hiring procedures and execution of employment contracts, and with human resource policies (including employee assessments and promotions).

The portions of collective agreements dealing with mutual obligations of the employer and employees typically laid the groundwork for relations between the employing entity and the in-house union organisations, ranging from practical issues (provision of office space and/or infrastructure to the unions) to procedural ones (dispute settlement).

3. Legislative developments

Please give brief details (including a short contextual summary) of the year’s main legislative developments with implications for industrial relations, where these are not covered in other sections of your response. For example, this might include new or amended legislation on issues such as employment rights, working time, pay and conditions of employment, termination of contract, equality, social security (with implications for the employment relationship), training, new forms of work, the labour market, health and safety etc.

In April 2006, following drawn-out negotiations with representatives of the social partners, Polish parliament passed a statute implementing EU Directive 2002/14 concerning the general framework for employee information and consultations (PL0603029I, PL0605029I). Under this new act, employee councils may be established at enterprises retaining more than 50 workers. Through 23 March 2008, councils will be established at companies employing between 50 and 100 workers; through 23 March 2007, employee councils will be established at entities with more than 100 employees. The councils will have between 3 and 7 members appointed for a four-year period in office. The employer shall be obligated - under threat of criminal penalties - to consult with the councils the activities and economic standing of the company and anticipated changes in the employment structure and in work organisation.

Foregoing consultations with the social partners, the Polish government set an increase of the minimum wage for 2007. The minimum monthly remuneration for full-time work will grow to PLN 936 PLN (€230). The minimum monthly remuneration is collected by some 4.5% of working Poles, and this percentage has been consistently decreasing from year to year.

The social partners were consulted with respect to the percentage of increase in the average remuneration for 2007; it was agreed that the wage increase index should not exceed 3.4% for enterprises employing more than 50 workers.

2007 will see a 2.2% increase in the salaries of Polish teachers; this marks yet another retreat from the original prospects laid out before the teaching profession, with the government promising first a 7% increase, and then 4.9%. The Union of Polish Teachers (Związek Nauczycielstwa Polskiego, ZNP) has expressed concern that, in 2007, a trainee teacher may end up with a real-terms pay increase in the amount of PLN 3.18 (less than € 1.00), and a full qualified teacher - PLN 6.27 (less than € 2.00).

A recent amendment to the Polish Labour Code obligates employers to reduce the working time assignment by 8 hours for every holiday falling on a day other than Sunday, irrespective of the number of such holidays in the course of a single week. This means that, in 2007, employees won’t have to work an extra day in order to compensate for one of two festive days (e.g. the two days of Christmas); the net effect is that they will gain two salaried days off. The Lewiatan Polish Confederation of Private Employers (Polska Konfederacja Pracodawców Prywatnych Lewiatan, PKPP Lewiatan) has challenged this labour law provision before the Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny, TK).

As of the beginning of 2007, miners will receive retirement benefits after 25 years of work underground, without regard to their age or to the position held by them. Eligibility for a mining retirement package will extend to persons aged 55 after 20 or 25 years of work (for women and for men, respectively), including 10 years of mining work underground.

As of early 2006, a number of new occupational health and safety rules were effectively implemented (in performance of over 20 legislative instruments). These included:

  • Health and safety requirements for machines;
  • Health and safety requirements for electrical equipment;
  • Health and safety requirements for personal protective gear;
  • Health and safety requirements for cranes;
  • Health and safety requirements for workers attending to farm animals;
  • A new list of protective vaccinations required for different positions;
  • Rules governing sanitary and epidemiological research;
  • New technical requirements for liquid fuel depots and filling stations;
  • Rules governing long-distance training for health and safety personnel;
  • Rates for calculation of accident at work and occupational illness insurance contributions;
  • New one-time damages for accidents at work and occupational illnesses;
  • New classification criteria for companies facing increased or significant risk of major industrial failure;
  • New standard forms for waste management and disposal documents;
  • New, expanded list of occupations barred to juvenile employees;
  • Health and safety requirements for metal tooling equipment;
  • New syllabus for training occupational health and safety technicians;
  • New waste classification list;
  • Occupational health and safety authority for employee councils being established in accordance with the EU Directive on information and consultation;
  • Fire safety;
  • Minimum health and safety requirements for equipment used in short-term high-altitude work.

4. Organisation and role of the social partners

Please provide brief details of any changes in the organisation and role of the social partners in your country during 2006. This might include trade union or employers’ organisation mergers, changes to social dialogue structures, or changes in membership levels and representativeness.

Results of the Current Problems and Events study carried out by the Public Opinion Research Centre (Centrum Badania Opinii Publicznej, CBOS) over 6-9 October 2006 (involving a representative group of 999 randomly chosen adult Poles) suggested little change in overall unionisation levels since the previous study of this sort, carried out in February 2005. In 2006, 6% of the respondents (and 14% of employees) declared themselves to be members of a trade union, down 1% from 2005. The Independent Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Solidarność, NSZZ Solidarność) assembles 5% of all employees, the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ) – 4%, the Trade Unions Forum (Forum Związków Zawodowych, FZZ) – 3%, and all remaining unions between them – 2% of all employees. These results may be taken as indicating that trade union membership is correlated with a number of variables such as age, gender, qualification and education level, and the ownership structure of the employing entity (private or state-owned). From information volunteered by the respondents, it appears that the trade union membership is dominated by older employees, women, highly qualified workers, and employees of state-owned enterprises.

32% of respondents in the October 2006 study worked at establishments at which there operated at least one union (as compared with 39% in November 2004) .

Analysis of union membership in different sectors of the economy indicates that organised labour is comparatively well entrenched in industry, transport, communications, and administration. On the other hand, unions do not seem to have established much of a power base in construction and in the service sector. The studies cited above show that different unions have come to, as it were, specialise in specific industries. NSZZ Solidarność, for instance, is clearly predominant in industry and in practically all major enterprises; the member unions of OPZZ, meanwhile, are comparatively well grounded in education and healthcare, and FZZ - in administration and in healthcare.

It might be noted that, from the point of view of the respondent employees, setting up an entirely new union or joining an existing one is becoming increasingly easy, with 64% of the respondents speaking of such facility in October 2006 (as compared with 61% in 2004).

2006 did not bring any material changes in the structure of Polish trade unions or employer organisations.

As concerns the activities of these organisations and the role played by them within the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs, it is fair to point out that, in some instances, exercise of the statutory rights of the social partners was impeded by representatives of the government. By way of example, one could cite the evasive strategy pursued by the Ministry of Finance (Ministerstwo Finansów, MF) as regards its duty to discuss the 2007 budget within the Tripartite Commission. Despite repeated protestations that the Minister of Finance will surely attend, the Minister failed to appear at several successive Tripartite Commission sessions held between June and September. The social partners were eventually moved to write a letter in which they condemn this apparent disdain on the part of the MF as well as decrying the Prime Minister’s failure to live up to his declarations about the importance of social dialogue.

5. Industrial action

Please give brief details of strikes and other industrial action during 2006, including

  • statistics on the number of strikes, workers involved and working days lost (absolute and per 1,000 workers) for as much of 2006 as is available (please indicate briefly what types of action are or are not included in these figures – e.g. are only strikes with a minimum number of workers or days lost included, or is only official action included?), and how this compares with previous years;
  • any particularly large or significant strikes/disputes; and
  • any changes to the regulatory environment – e.g. the law on strikes or dispute resolution.

At the time of this paper’s drafting, the Central Statistical Office for Poland (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS) could offer only data on strikes organised in 2005. These numbered a total of eight, and they involved 1,600 employees - 33.2% of the aggregate workforce of the entities involved. The number of days not worked on account of the industrial action totalled 400, translating into 0.9 days away from work for every employee of the employing entities affected by strikes.

Casual observation for 2006 indicate that there has been no significant increase in the number of strikes.

The more noteworthy strikes included:

  • The postmen’s strike launched in mid-November 2006 (PL0612039I) during which postal employees demanded, among other negotiating items, pay increases and a guaranteed 8-hour working time. In the end, the striking employees secured a bonus for December 2006 and promises of a pay raise in 2007;
  • A warning strike held on 5 May 2006 at more than 100 public healthcare entities (PL0605039I) plus the brief protests staged at various hospitals throughout the first half of 2006. The demands of the striking medical personnel centred on remunerations; the government eventually yielded and promised to offer pay raises as of October 2006;
  • The strike commenced on 5 April 2006 by employees of K-Tel, a company collaborating with Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. - the national telecoms operator (PL0605019I), in protest against planned employment downsizing and changes to the remuneration system. After more than two weeks, most demands of the striking employees were accepted.

6. Cross-border mobility

Please give brief details of any industrial relations-related developments in 2006 on the issue of the mobility of workers (including the posting of workers) between EU Member States or into Member States from outside the EU. This might include collective agreements or legislation regulating the employment of migrant workers, social partner initiatives or debate on the matter (e.g. trade union campaigns to organise migrant workers), or industrial disputes.

On 30 August 2006, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy signed into law a regulation concerning performance of labour by foreigners without obtaining work permits. The right of permit-free employment was held out, among other groups, to:

  • Nationals of neighbouring countries legally highered by a Polish employer to perform agricultural work for not more than 3 months in the space of half a year;
  • Graduates of Polish medical schools serving postgraduate internships;
  • Non-EU nationals temporarily assigned by their employer to perform a specific service;
  • Foreign language teachers, provided that the language in which they offer instruction is their mother tongue.

The regulation lists a total of 27 categories of foreigners who do not need a work permit to take up employment in Poland.

The OPZZ union organisation was the only social partner to criticise the new ordinance’s provisions enabling permit-free employment of foreign agricultural workers. In substantiation of its objections, OPZZ argued that no analysis of labour demand in the agricultural sector had been carried out. These objections, however, were largely ignored in the face of a pressing need to fill numerous vacancies at agricultural operations.

Labour shortages in Poland are not limited to the agricultural sector. Despite the fact that the official unemployment rate continues to hover in the neighbourhood of 15%, the business community is increasingly complaining of difficulties in recruiting qualified professionals and unskilled labourers alike. It appears that the large-scale exodus of Poles seeking work in Western Europe is a significant factor here. Some estimates place the number of such departures at as much as 2,000,000. This may be an exaggerated figure but, then again, the official statistics do not do full justice to the phenomenon.

Unofficial figures put the number of Ukrainians working in Poland’s grey economy at 150,000, although the number of illegal Ukrainian workers appears to have declined following Poland’s accession to the EU and the consequent imposition of a visa requirement on Ukrainian nationals.

7. Reconciliation of work, family and private life

Please give brief details of any collective bargaining or legislative developments in 2006 that aim to make it easier for workers to reconcile work, family and private life. These might relate to maternity, parental, paternity or other leave for childcare purposes, leave to care for elderly parents or disabled family members, care facilities for children and other dependants, or flexible working arrangements (e.g. job-sharing, flexible working hours, term-time working or teleworking).

One change in this area is presented in longer maternity leaves for Polish mothers; under the new rules, a woman giving birth to her first child is entitled to 18 weeks’ salaried leave. For every subsequent child, leave is set at 20 weeks. The same leave entitlement extends to women caring for adopted children or maintaining a surrogate family. In the case of a multiple birth, maternity leave is set at 28 weeks. New laws were also implemented concerning issue of medical certificates advising against certain workplace activities by pregnant women and by nursing mothers.

8. Other relevant developments

If there been any other significant industrial relations developments in 2006 that have not been mentioned above, please give brief details.

In July 2006, the Tripartite Commission defined the priorities of the Economy-Work-Family-Dialogue social pact, which has been some 18 months in planning. And thus, the main objective of the pact has been formulated as

increasing wealth of society at large and reducing poverty and social exclusion through rapid, sustained economic growth.

The priorities are to comprise: (1) greater investment outlays measured as a share of GDP, (2) increased share of high-value added production and services in GDP - a hallmark of an innovative, modern economy, (3) reducing poverty and social exclusion by way of active social policies, (4) strengthening the family through social and economic development, and (5) development of civil society through support of civic initiatives.

The idea of executing a general pact has received the support of the social partners, the government, the president, and the main centres of political power (PL0610079I).


Please outline the main events and issues that are likely to be high on the industrial relations agenda in 2007.

Throughout 2006, developments on Poland’s political scene remained largely unpredictable. Sadly, one of the reasons for this state of affairs is that the politicians who won power promising to foster a ‘solidary Poland’ in reliance on social dialogue instruments quickly forgot about their vows.

The year 2007 may bring a certain commotion with respect to amendment of the laws concerning self-employment. Self-employment status (and the attendant benefits associated with, for instance, social insurance contributions) will no longer extend to sole traders who, having left salaried employment, continue to work for the same employer/principal as an independent business entity (PL0608019I).

2006 does not appear to have brought much changes in the area of collective bargaining. One major novelty, however, was comprised in implementation of the EU Directive on workplace information and consultation, although its actual effects will make themselves felt only as 2007 wears on. The most important task for the social partners and the government, meanwhile, lies in finalisation of the social pact which has been in the works for all of 2006.

Jacek Sroka, Piotr Sula, Institute of Public Affairs

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