Poland: The role of governments and social partners in keeping older workers in the labour market

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Social dialogue,
  • Sustainable work,
  • Working conditions and sustainable work,
  • Inequality,
  • Industrial relations,
  • Collective bargaining,
  • Agreements,
  • Published on: 02 June 2013

Marta Trawinska

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 view of Poland’s ranking as lowest in the EU professional activity indicators for people aged 45+, the government and social partners see the need for actions boosting occupational development of this group. Poland has a universal plan called ‘Generations’ Solidarity: Actions for Increasing Occupational Activity of People Aged 50+’, developed within the social dialogue institutions. So far it has been implemented through legislation, most importantly with regard to the pension system, and specifically raising and equalising the statutory retirement age for men and women and restricting access to early retirement schemes. Very few actions revolve around improving the quality of work of older workers.


The ageing workforce is a demographic process that can cause problems related to the sustainability of the welfare regimes and more specifically to the maintenance of the pension systems. On the labour market side, the aforementioned process can have damaging implications for the reproduction of skills and for the availability of the necessary workforce with different impacts in the various economic activities. Therefore, a shrinking working age population risks acting as a drag on economic growth through labour and skills shortages. Moreover, the projections of the 2012 Ageing report suggests that there will be a considerable increase in employment rates for older persons across the EU-27 during the next half a century.

In this context the EU has recognised the importance of the ageing challenge for many years and has developed policy in several areas. Active ageing features as part of the flagship policy ‘Europe 2020’.

Active ageing recognises that if people are to work for a longer period of time, then they will need to be in good physical and mental health, with access to more flexible working arrangements, healthy workplaces, lifelong learning and retirement schemes. In this regard, the attention might go beyond the older group of workers including middle age workers, for example. In order to address the abovementioned challenges, policy measures at national level are needed to promote working conditions that can help keeping workers in the labour market for longer in their lifetime. The content and aims of these policies may vary from country to country because of the particular situation of the different EU countries as regards life-expectancy, ageing, economic and sectoral structure and budgetary aspects.

The role of social partners is essential in this context, as they are key actors in shaping and improving working conditions in the various sectors. Some sectors are characterised by more strenuous jobs, adding to the challenge of keeping older workers in employment longer. Moreover, it is important to examine if and how recent changes (increasing statutory retirement age, economic crisis, technological change, and sectoral and production changes) have impacted on the nature of the policies for improving the quality of work of older workers.

In this framework, earlier case study research by Eurofound identified examples of companies with practices intended to develop a sustainable workforce through adequate working conditions that facilitate keeping older workers in employment and at the same time making possible the presence of the necessary skills in companies. However, given the recent socioeconomic changes and lack of updated comparative information, further research is needed in order to map strategies and measures at national level, as well as to assess certain initiatives from governments, social partners and social dialogue with the aim to improve quality of work in order to keep workers longer in the labour market.

National active ageing policies

The participation of older workers in the labour market is strongly conditioned by the national policy environment, in particular by the pension system framework, employment legislation, wage policies, occupational and wider health care provisions, active labour market policies as well as the availability of education and training.

In the recent years most Member States have put policy emphasis on reforming their pension systems and restricting access to early retirement and other early exit routes, which had become popular during the 1970s and 80s as ways to address youth unemployment and challenges of restructuring. As a result of these reforms, leaving the labour market early has become much more costly for individuals.

In addition, many countries are considering – or have already implemented – an increase in the statutory retirement age, partly to take account of the rise in healthy life expectancy and the changing nature of jobs (less physically demanding), but also – and particularly in the current economic climate – to ensure the long-term viability of their public pension systems in the context of increasing pressure on public budgets.

It is also important to note that pre-retirement pensions, which are contra-intuitive to the above outlined EU policy objectives, are still commonly used in a number of EU countries (including also as a result of the crisis), although they have been rendered significantly less attractive to older workers themselves as well as companies. Similarly, the possibilities of part-time career breaks or partial retirement, intended to stimulate workers’ return to a labour market or their retention on a reduced hours basis have in many countries been used as a first step towards early retirement.

Consequently, while the Member States’ policies emphasis has been on foreclosing avenues towards early retirement and raising of the retirement age, The number of governmental initiatives which have been taken to improve quality of work and to assist older workers in retaining a foothold on the labour market seems to be much smaller. Nevertheless, the measures which have been undertaken include among others:

  • Supporting ongoing skills development and validation of existing competences. These measures spring from the recognition that lifelong learning and ongoing skills development are key to supporting sustainable employability not just for older workers, but for the workforce at large (throughout working lives). To make lifelong learning a reality at this scale the current trends demonstrating an under-representation of lower skilled and older workers in continuous learning need to be overcome. Initiatives in this area have been taken both by social partners and national governments. In France, for example, a cross-sectoral social partner agreement from 2006 (later transferred into law), encourages the development of “second half of career interviews”, skills assessments and a better implementation of the individual right to training for workers over 45, while a law from 2005 obliges all companies with more than 300 employees to agree a three-year anticipatory plan on development of competences.
  • Awareness raising measures. These include, for example, financial support for initiatives aimed at making the business case for active age management and retaining older workers in the workplace. These measures also include fighting stereotypes about older workers’ adaptability and willingness to learn, health issues and the level of absenteeism.
  • Member States can also provide support in the development of age management strategies at organisational level (such measures exist in Germany and the Netherlands, among others).
  • Active labour market policies, including:
  1. Advice, counselling, guidance, job matching and vocational training measures to update existing skills and upskill older workers active in sectors facing declining demand;
  2. Subsidies for employers offering employment opportunities for older workers. Such subsidies are often time limited and can be tied to commitments to offer longer term employment or training.
  • Comprehensive approaches, including measures to support work ability and employability. A number of countries provide financial support for “work ability” measures, which take a holistic approach to ensuring an individual’s employability and work ability throughout working life, incorporating training, occupational health and other measures. The most commonly applied approach is the so called “Work ability index” initially developed in Finland.
  • Work organisation related measures, like removing barriers and promoting flexible working. Flexible working time organisation can benefit older workers. Such policies may include regulation developed to promote among older workers flexible work schedules, part-time working, teleworking and easier transition from old (outdated) positions to new tasks, simultaneously improving the employment protection of workers on atypical employment arrangements.

Social partners and active ageing

In recent years awareness of the importance of active age management policies has increased significantly among employers and trade unions in the EU, although the extent to which this has been actively addressed varies.

Just as different countries and regions, also different industry sectors and employers will face divergent age profiles among their staff and therefore varying pressures to take decisive action, although the overall trend towards a declining and ageing workforce is widely recognised as a challenge.

On the whole, social partners’ practices with regard to active ageing can include a number of key elements:

  • Changing attitudes to older workers within organisations (being age positive);
  • Workforce mapping and workforce planning combined with age positive recruitment;
  • Training, development and promotion policies as well as succession management;
  • Health and safety/ergonomics and job design (the two categories above are sometimes referred to as measures to maintain “work ability”);
  • Flexible working practices (temporal, geographical as well as functional, including workplace and work process redesign and redeployment; and
  • Cross cutting policies including inter-generational learning.

It has to be noted that social partner agreements may cover many of the above areas in a holistic approach to modernise industrial relations. For example some social partners organisations in the Netherlands have recently agreed on a social manifesto aiming to create sustainable employment through focus on developing knowledge, improving working conditions, increasing diversity and availability of individual’s choices for all their represented workers including older employees, youth, various education levels, working time arrangements and types of contracts.

Similarly, the social partners in Spain have recently signed a comprehensive active ageing strategy covering the period 2012-2014, which includes elements such as promotion of healthy and secure working conditions through evaluation of risks for older people and corresponding training and information, enhancing companies’ flexibility with regard to working hours to suit older workers needs, re-adapting PES services in improving employability of older workers, fostering experience transfer and fighting age discrimination.

Objectives of the assignment

The main objective of this questionnaire is to describe the strategies/ policies/measures developed by the national governments, as well as social dialogue agreements or individual initiatives of social partners (on national or industry level only) that contribute to improve the quality of work and employment conditions of older workers and to create the working conditions that promote longer working life, and therefore to keep older workers in the labour market.

1. National background and policy context – the main issues encouraging or preventing the extension of working life in your country

1.1 What are the main barriers in your country for the extension of working life?

According to research conducted for the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy the main barriers for the extension of working life are:

  • fatigue – mostly in employees who have spent many years performing monotonous labour, inadequate to the changing psychophysical condition, with no perspective of change and rare participation in training;
  • bad health;
  • competition from younger employees combined with the development of modern technologies;
  • need to care for grandchildren and adult dependents – applies mostly to women;
  • disability;
  • employers’ attitude towards older workers – employers show preference for younger employees and consider them better qualified and able to work more flexible hours;
  • pension system, which offers access to early retirement – especially to workers threatened by redundancies in companies under restructuring or having unstable or casual employment (in which case retiring seems a safer solution);
  • legal regulations that prevent employees from combining professional activity with receiving pension benefits (Act of 16 December 2010 amending the Public Finance Act and other acts)

1.2 In general, what are the main existing policies and other contextual elements contributing to the extension of working life?

Working conditions related aspects Social and labour market aspects

  • Flexible pension systems which significantly reward extending working lives;
  • Taxation systems which encourage working longer (for example in combination with a partial pension)
  • Well developed care systems (for child or elder care) which limit demand on older workers to take up such roles;
  • Active labour market policy measures which effectively encourage the recruitment of older workers (including subsidies).
  • Any other contextual factors constituting contributing to longer and better quality working lives.

In Poland the main instruments contributing to longer activity on the labour market are changes to the pension system. Three basic elements of these changes can be pointed out:

2. Policies promoting prolongation of working life through the improvement of quality of work

2.1 Developing skills (Training, lifelong learning)

  • Measures / policies / agreements to improve in-work training provision.
  • Measures / policies / agreements to validate existing competencies and skills.
  • Other relevant measures (i.e. promotion of intergenerational skills exchange)
  • Others related to this area (i.e. a general initiative in this area)

2.2 Health and safety and health promotion

  • Measures / policies / agreements to improve health and safety in the workplace (which go beyond basic legislative requirements)
  • Measures / policies / agreements to assist in the adaptation of workplaces for (older) workers with limited physical or psychological work capacity, including rehabilitation after incapacity/sickness and integration in the workplace for older workers.
  • Measures / policies /agreements aimed at overall health promotion in the workplace
  • Other relevant measures (i.e. a general initiative in this area)

2.3 Work organisation related measures: flexible working time, career development and horizontal mobility

  • Measures / policies / agreements to support temporal working time flexibility (flexible work schedules, part-time / reduced hours working in the run up retirement, time banks, etc.).
  • Measures / policies / agreements to support geographical flexibility (home working or teleworking policies).
  • Measures / policies / agreements to support functional flexibility (to achieve greater flexibility in who does what and how – for example to enable workers no longer able to do their former job to adapt to carry out new tasks). This could also mean mobility between companies.
  • Measures / policies / agreements to support career development beyond 50+
  • Other relevant measures related to work organisation (i.e. a general initiative in this area)

2.4 Initiatives related to socio-cultural change

  • Measures / policies / agreements to change “early exit culture”
  • Measures / policies / agreements to promote the value of older workers in terms of performance, competencies and experience
  • Other policies related to promoting changes of attitudes in the society and or in an specific sec tor about the value of older workers
  • Other (i.e. a general initiative in this area)

Title: Maturity profit;

This programme is specifically focused on older people.

Scope: national for all sectors

Partners in the policy: Non-governmental organization with employer organization.

Date of implementation / agreement: implemented since 2009

Main goals: promoting and raising awareness about age management solutions for sustaining longer and fuller professional activity of people over 50.

Content of the policy / measure / agreement: Main elements of the project include: media campaign, seminars for employers, competition for employers’ most “age friendly” strategies and actions, study visit to Great Britain and preparation of the set of good practices, www.zysk50plus.pl website.

Groups of workers affected: employees aged 50+.

The impact of economic crisis on the policy development, implementation and results: irrelevant.

Assessment /Evaluation: no data available.

2.5 Returning to work for unemployed older people

  • Policies to improve access to the labour market, especially when 50+ workers are unemployed.
  • Others (i.e. a general initiative in this area)

2.6 Comprehensive programmes

  • Initiatives covering various aspects for the improvement of quality of work in order to contribute to longer working lives.
  • Programmes combining working conditions, labour market and welfare aspects.

The programme “Generations’ Solidarity. Actions for Increasing Occupational Activity of People Aged 50+”.

The programme is a general government strategy aimed at developing occupational activity of people over 50, carried out by various institutions (ministries, government agencies, etc.). Some of the programme’s tasks are performed as part of specific operational programmes (especially Operational Programme Human Capital).

The programme is specifically focused on older people.

  • Scope: national for all sectors.

The programme has been developed as part of the tripartite dialogue (government representatives and social partners).

  • Time of implementation: 2008 – 2020.

Main goals:

  • Improving working conditions, promoting employment of people over 50 and age management.
  • Improving skills and qualifications of employees over 50.
  • Reducing the cost of employment of people over 50.
  • Occupational activation of the unemployed and employees threatened by unemployment aged 50+.
  • Occupational activation of the disabled.
  • Increasing employment potential of women by developing services enabling life/work balance.
  • Raising the effective retirement age.

The strategic goal of the programme is to attain the employment rate of people between 55-64 years of age at 50% by the year 2020.

Content of the programme:

  • promoting (awareness campaigns) employment of people aged 45+ (including special actions promoting the employment of women and the disabled);
  • promoting and implementing of age management solutions in enterprises (trainings for employees and employers);
  • improving working conditions of farmers (modernising farms under the Rural Development Programme for 2007-2013);
  • improving health of people aged 50+ (for instance by implementing disease prevention programmes against peripheral nervous system diseases, movement disorders, psychosocial pressure and allergies; developing prophylaxis programmes);
  • assessment of competencies in adult people, especially those over 50;
  • professionalization of labour market services adequate to the needs of clients aged 45+;
  • vocational training for agricultural and forestry workers and counselling for farmers and forest owners under the Rural Development Programme for 2007-2013;
  • developing and implementing National Qualification Framework compatible with the European Qualification Framework;
  • supporting lifelong education of people aged 50+;
  • supporting employees aged 50+;
  • building individual action plans for people aged 45+;
  • establishing social co-operatives in order to promote vocational development of people over 50;
  • supporting local initiatives involving active forms of social aid to the unemployed aged 50+ ;
  • actions for greater social integration of people over 50;
  • counteracting the exclusion of people over 50 and strengthening of the social economy sector;
  • vocational development of people over 50;
  • promoting entrepreneurship among people aged 45+;
  • amending the system of benefits for the disabled;
  • vocational development and integration of the disabled;
  • furthering flexibility of legal regulations with regard to working time organisation;
  • establishing day cares for children at the workplaces and developing alternative forms of providing child care;
  • simplifying legal regulations with regard to creating new preschool care centres.

Actions of the programme specifically addresses the issue of working conditions:

- changes in legislation to facilitate the implementation of the age management solution in enterprises (mainly in the Labour Code);

- promoting, by informational campaigns, the idea of age management strategies;

-  development of age management standards;

- implementation of pilot projects aimed at developing and disseminating good practices in age management.

  • Groups of workers affected: people aged 45+, especially women and the disabled.

The impact of economic crisis on the policy development, implementation and results: irrevelant

Assessment / Evaluation: the programme has not been completed yet, therefore giving detailed information about the results is impossible. Furthermore, it will not be possible to evaluate the effects of certain actions until after some time passes (for instance the changes in law or the impact of awareness campaigns).

From 2008 to 30 June 2010 (first stage of evaluation of the programme: “The Programme Implementation Report”, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy) 10 out of 44 envisaged actions/tasks were conducted. The completed actions were of legislative nature (9 of them), and one was informative:

Raising awareness about the labour law regulations forbidding discrimination because of age and disability – the ministry website provides explanation of the Labour Code regarding these issues.

Popularisation of lifelong education of employees over 45. This task was implemented through the amendment to the Act of 19 December 2008 on promoting employment and labour market institutions as well as amendments to some other acts (which became effective on 1 February 2009). The following changes were introduced:

  • employees aged 45+ were enabled to use the help of labour offices in raising qualifications (referrals to trainings, reimbursement for the costs of exams, funding of post-graduate studies, training loans) based on the same principle as had been applied to the unemployed;
  • providing assistance to the employers who refer employees to trainings by simplifying the procedures of establishment and use of training fund; providing easier access to labour fund for workers’ training.
  • simplifying the process of raising qualifications. In May 2010 the Labour Code was amended along with the personal income tax law (the amendment took effect on 16 June 2010), so as to provide employees who raise qualifications with a paid training leave, and a paid leave of work on the day or part of the day of training. It also enables the employer to pay allowance to cover the costs of training, transportation, manuals and lodging (these allowances are exempt from personal income tax).
  • exempting employers from paying contributions to the Labour Fund and the Guaranteed Employee Benefits Fund for employees near retirement age (amendment to the Employment Promotion and Labour Market Institutions Act).
  • reducing the number of sick days for which the employer is required to pay during an employee’s sick leave in case of people aged 50+ (amendment to the Labour Code).
  • popularisation of labour market programmes for people over 45 (amendment to the Employment Promotion and Labour Market Institutions Act). The Labour Fund assigned 60 million PLN for the vocational development programme for people aged 45+. The programme covered 22,629 persons; of whom 9,656 found employment.
  • popularisation of lifelong education of the unemployed and persons seeking employment aged 50+ (amendment to the Employment Promotion and Labour Market Institutions Act).
  • stable legal framework – simplifying procedures of granting public fund subsidies to employers of disabled persons (the act of 5 December 2008 amending the Vocational and Social Rehabilitation and Employment of the Disabled Act).
  • enabling the financing of company day cares from the company social benefit fund.
  • Actions restricting employee deactivation by the social welfare system (amendment to the act of 17 December 1998 on old age and disability pensions from the Social Insurance Fund and the act of 19 December 2008 on bridge pensions). The number of persons eligible for early retirement was reduced from 1.2 million to 270,000.

Other actions:

  • Supporting lifelong education of people aged 45+; training and counselling was provided to 634 people;
  • Supporting employees aged 50+ - 22,335 people participated in training;
  • Actions for greater social integration of people aged 50+ - 6,535 persons enrolled in this programme;
  • Counteracting the exclusion of people aged 50+ and strengthening of the social economy sector – 3,868 persons participated in internships, trainings and courses;
  • Vocational development of persons aged 50+. The number of people aged between 50-64, partaking in the projects under Action 6.1 of Operational Project Human Capital is 25,105. The number of people aged between 50-64, who obtained funds to start own companies is 1011; The number of new jobs created by persons aged between 50-64 is 291;
  • Promoting entrepreneurship among people aged 45+. The number of people aged between 50-64, partaking in the projects under Action 6.2 of Operational Project Human Capital is 1189. The number of people aged between 50-64, who obtained funds to start own companies is 336.
  • The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy informs that before 30 June 2010 106,000 unemployed people aged 45+, the disabled and employees over 50 obtained training under this programme. During this period also 2,300 labour office workers were trained.

It is worth noting that although the programme was developed as part of the tripartite dialogue, its actions have been negatively evaluated on the part of the employers so far. They believe the government granted insufficient funds to directly support the employment of persons over 50 (for instance by way of supporting enterprises and subsidising new jobs). The programme has been also negatively evaluated by trade unions which claim the programme will not improve situation of older workers on labour market at all. The main point of trade unions’ criticism is the way of management and implementation of the programme.

Title: The national training and counselling project “Aging in plus – trainings for companies” – a complex support programme for enterprises creating and implementing age management strategies.

The programme is specifically focused on older people.

Scope: National for all sectors

Partners in the policy: Government agency – Polish Agency for Enterprise Development

Date of implementation / agreement: first recruitment in December 2010.

Main goals: Transferring practical knowledge of strategic human resource management with special focus on age differences, so as to reach the optimum use of knowledge, experience and commitment of employees and consequently increase company competitiveness.

Content of the measure: The project offers a wide range of training and counselling services to enterprises and employees under two components. Component One includes:

  • Trainings which present advantages, raise awareness and give practical knowledge about age management in enterprises.
  • Counselling aimed at supporting companies in building and implementing age management systems with individual help of the counsellor.

Component Two includes:

  • Training which encompasses theoretical and practical mentoring/intermentoring (a situation when more senior employees introduce young employees in the rules of a given organisation, and development of interpersonal skills, adapted to the needs of participants.
  • Coaching participants to assume the role of mentors/intermentors.

Groups of workers affected: employees aged 45+

The impact of economic crisis on the policy development, implementation and results: irrevelant.

Assessment / Evaluation: At this stage of the ongoing project it is hard to assess its results. It is however possible to give quantitative data about the participants as of the end of February 2012:

  • Trainings under Component One and Two covered 1,137 companies nationwide;
  • More than 318 companies used direct counselling services at the workplace;
  • Age management systems developed in the course of the counselling were successfully implemented in 150 companies;
  • 296 people were coached to be mentors or intermentors at the workplace.

3. Views of Social Partners on the role of working conditions for keeping older workers in the labour market

The discussion regarding the latest described above changes to the pension system has also evolved around employees aged 50+ (more information about the pension system reform discussion between the government and social partners can be found here: PL1206019I). Social partners agree that in order to increase the number of people over 50 on the labour market it would not be enough to introduce changes to the pension system. People over 50 must also be encouraged to be professionally active again, and supported in raising their vocational skills and accepting the perspective of lifelong education. In the opinion of trade unions and employers associations well thought-of strategies and long-term actions aimed at changing human resource policies in companies are necessary. It is important that constant development of the employee, investment in training and maintaining good health become essential elements. Employers mainly expect more direct and indirect financial public support. In turn, trade unions had criticized the increase of the statutory retirement age without actual improvement of working conditions and general situation of older workers on the labour market.

4. Commentary

The solutions existing in Poland aimed at keeping or activating older workers on the labour market seem limited and insufficient. The focus of the government is on legislative solutions and actions to raise the statutory retirement age and restrict access to early retirement. There are almost no policies improving the quality of work. Although social partners criticise both the choice of actions and their implementation, they themselves abstain from undertaking own actions such as social campaigns to raise awareness about vocational development of people over 45. In the meantime employers’ associations point out that the knowledge about the existing opportunities of training and changing qualifications by older workers is insufficient.

Marta Trawinska, Institute of Public Affairs

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