Poland: EIRO Annual Review - 2008

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 18 February 2010

Jacek Sroka, Piotr Sula

The year 2008 passed with no surprises in terms of Polish industrial relations. It witnessed considerable economic growth and increase in wages and salaries. However, favourable conditions failed to encompass the development of mechanisms in social dialogue, where the so-far practices continued to be applied.

1. Political developments

For the government that was formed in November 2007 by the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO) and the Polish People’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL) the year 2008 constituted a kind of experiment, as it decided to test out a coalition configuration which was to be tried out for the first time in nearly twenty years of Polish democracy. It should be noted here that the coalition partners showed great effectiveness in reaching common position in various matters, which means that they prevented Polish public opinion from witnessing intra-coalition conflicts – a novelty in the Polish political scene. However, it still remains an open question whether this coalition consensus will survive in the face of a deteriorating economic situation.

Both coalition parties managed to retain relatively high social support: for PO it oscillated between 40 % and 50 %, whereas for PSL – 5 %.

Another crucial factor determining Polish public debate in 2008 were the relations between the President and the Prime Minister. There emerged a conflict concerning the scope of the President’s and the Prime Minister’s competencies in the area of foreign policy – the President insisted on his participation in the meetings of the Council of the European Union, although so far the Polish delegation to the Council's meetings comprised exclusively of the government representatives. Cohabitation affected also the legislative process: the President used his power to exercise a veto several times. Among the normative acts vetoed by the President were the Law on Health Care Facilities (the veto was sustained by the parliament) and the Draft on Transition Pensions (the veto was overridden by more than 3/5 of MPs).

Towards the end of 2008, there appeared first speculations over the candidates who were to represent different parties in the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament. It also seems that the major political event in the first half of 2009 will be the European Parliament elections and the preceding electoral campaign.

2. Collective bargaining developments

The most recent data on collective bargaining was published by the National Labour Inspectorate (Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP) in November 2008 and it covered the year 2007. The company collective agreements registered in 2007 covered a total of 121,500 employees. The greatest number of collective agreements was negotiated in the field of industrial processing. The biggest number of employees was covered by two collective agreements concluded by the employers providing compulsory social insurance services. Out of 168 company collective agreements registered in 2007, 114 were negotiated following the expiration of previous ones, whereas the remaining number of agreements was concluded by the employers so far uninvolved in any collective bargaining. There is a visible tendency to restrict more favourable collective bargaining regulations. Among 168 company collective agreements registered in 2007, only one envisaged longer holiday leave than that provided by labour legislation, while eight collective agreements guaranteed additional health and safety leave for those working in hazardous and harmful conditions. In 2007, 170 protocols were drawn up in addition to the existing collective agreements. Most often, the additional protocols introduced changes in the amount of the annual growth of basic wages and salaries. The changes that affected the basis of calculating and acquiring the right to certain benefits (jubilee rewards, seniority allowance, and pension or retirement gratuities) consisted, on the one hand, in rendering them more favourable (e.g. by increasing the amount of the award basis) and, on the other, in limiting the level of the benefits concerned. Other changes affected the systems of rewards for work applied to certain groups of employees.

As regards the supra-company collective agreements, according to the data made available by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, MPiPS) there were 169 collective agreements registered by the Ministry of which 37 are threatened by either repudiation or termination.


As mentioned above, there is a steady tendency to restrict more favourable regulations concerning collective bargaining. On year-to-year basis the average pay increased by 11 %.

Working time

There were no agreements concerning working time.

3. Legislative developments

The vital part of efforts of the Trilateral Commission for Social and Economic Affairs (Trilateral Commission) concentrated on legal solutions that would regulate the issue of earlier retirement for persons working in hazardous and harmful conditions. In the period between June and September there were several joint meetings of the task teams of the Trilateral Commission for Social Insurance Issues and for Economic Policy and Labour Market Affairs, several meetings of the Trilateral Commission Presidium as well as two plenary sessions of the Trilateral Commission. It should be noted here that despite several months of talks on the Trilateral Commission’s forum, no consensus was achieved and the law proposed by the government was finally passed after stormy parliamentary horse-trading. In virtue of the law on transition pensions the number of those entitled to earlier retirement was reduced from circa 1,000,000 to 250,000.

An amendment to the directive issued on 30 August 2006 by the Minister of Labour and Social Policy on performing work by foreign persons without the necessity to obtain work permits came into force on 1 February 2008. In virtue of legal regulations foreign individuals can perform work in Poland if they are citizens of Poland's neighbouring countries, intend to perform work for no longer than 6 months in a calendar year and, most importantly, obtain a promise of employment from their employer registered in the poviat labour office (local level) proper for the place of residence of the person making the declaration (the original version of the directive envisaged work for no longer than three months during 6 consecutive months).

Another amendment to a bill on employment promotion and labour market institutions presented by MPiPS in June 2008 still remains only a project. According to the government’s position, the unemployed who decided to participate in some kind of vocational training would obtain training scholarship whose amount would exceed the amount of an unemployment allowance.

4. Organisation and role of the social partners

The Trilateral Commission held talks over possible changes in the criteria governing trade unions’ representativeness on company level. The Commission discussed an increase in the threshold of representativeness of company organisations, which at present amounts to 10 % of employees-trade union members per single enterprise. The Trilateral Commission failed to reach a consensus with this respect and the so-far solution is still in force (10 % threshold of trade union member employees).

5. Industrial action

According to the data gathered by the Central Statistical Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS), over the first 9 months of 2008 there were 12,000 strikes held, in which participated 208,500 employees, which constituted 47.2% of all employed in the companies where the strikes took place (in comparison, during the first 9 months of 2007 there were 1,700 strikes organised with the participation of 35,900 employees). In 2008 the number of working hours lost per worker amounted to around 7 working hours, whereas the total number of working hours lost amounted to 1,407,600 (in comparison, in 2007 it was 31 working hours lost per single worker and the total number of working hours lost amounted to 1,108,700). Most frequently, the strikes were organised in the education and postal services sector, whereas other industrial actions were held by the health care service and urban and suburban transport workers as well as by the employed in machinery and food industry.

Since January 2007, one of the most spectacular protest actions was 46-day-long strike held by the workers of the ‘Budryk’ Joint Stock Mining Company (KWK ‘Budryk’). Its participants met with strong criticism on the part of not only the employers’ organisations but also the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union ‘Solidarity’ (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy ‘Solidarność’, NSZZ ’Solidarność’) representatives, who considered such a prolonged strike a highly irresponsible venture. Those commenting on the protests in KWK ‘Budryk’ also pointed to much too numerous trade unions in coal mining industry and suggested that a more efficient system regulating the functioning of trade organisations should be developed. It should be emphasised that the above opinions were also expressed by the representatives of trade unions. It can be assumed that in the face of the above views and criticism as well as in fear of its future image, the Trade Union ‘Kadra’ (Związek Zawodowy ‘Kadra’, ZZ Kadra) decided to exclude from its structure the unionist organisation operating in KWK ‘Budryk’ – one of the organisers of the strike in question.

Other spectacular strike actions were held by Polish postal workers of Poczta Polska – their protests were shorter but had wider range than those of KWK ‘Budryk’. June strikes were joined by circa 4,000 employees from 250 post offices.

Other protests that deserve attention were held by tax office staff and medical rescue workers; in August, the judges’ strike was joined by circa 70 % of all employed in Polish judiciary (a total number of judges in Poland amounts to 10,000).

No new regulations on the organisation of strikes have been proposed. In May 2008, the Trilateral Commission tried to approach this issue, however, so far the Commission has failed to arrive at a position which would be accepted by all social partners represented in the Trilateral Commission and which could constitute a basis for an amendment to the relevant law.

6. Restructuring

In 2008 the restructuring processes slowed down, which is why not much discussion was devoted to this specific issue. The most significant debate, however, focused on the restructuring of the shipbuilding industry in Poland. The discussion was marked by divergence of views of Polish government and shipbuilding trade unions supporting the latter and that of the European Commission (PL0807029I).

7. Impact of financial and economic problems

First symptoms of the economic crisis in Poland could be observed towards the end of 2008. According to the data collected by GUS, in September 2008 directors from 236 companies announced 15,600 redundancies, including 1,400 public sector employees (in comparison, in September 2007 the data concerned 133 companies, 5,800 redundancies, including 1,400 public sector employees). In November, for the first time in 2008, the unemployment rate increased from 8.8 % to 9.1 %.

Driven by recent news on the global financial crash, the representatives of NSZZ ‘Solidarność’ and the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ) suggested that in view of the economic crisis employees should refrain from their pay-rise demands and in certain compulsory cases acquiesce to holiday leave. At present, the main goal of the unionists is to keep as many workplaces as possible. Simultaneously, trade unions appealed to the employers so that they did not make use of the crisis to act against their employees in cases where they were not forced to do so by economic condition of their company.

Although the above opinion has been widely shared by a great number of employees, some groups of workers (including the State Treasury personnel) have not refrained from their pay-rise demands and, at the beginning of 2009, demanded salary increase amounting to 1 billion zlotys in total (€ 230,000,000).

The representatives of Polish Confederation of Private Employers ‘Lewiatan’ (Polska Konfederacja Pracodawców Prywatnych ‘Lewiatan’, PKPP Lewiatan) promoted the introduction of regulations that would enable the employers to suspend the bonus’ payment and suggested a creation of a mechanism that would allow the employees to share one workplace. This way, the employers would be able to preserve jobs even in crisis situations.

The issue of the crisis is to be discussed at the Trilateral Commission’s forum.

8. Other relevant developments

No other relevant industrial relations developments have been reported.

Jacek Sroka, Piotr Sula, the Institute of Public Affairs

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