Representativeness of the social partners: Telecommunications sector - Poland

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 27 May 2007

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.

The better part of the telecommunications market in Poland is controlled by Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. (TP S.A.) This statement refers to fixed-line telephones. As far as the mobile telephony market is concerned, there is no operator with a dominant position (the market shares controlled by each of the three mobile operators are comparable). TP S.A. also provides the only arena among telecoms operators where trade unions are functioning effectively. That said, the role of the trade unions in the decision-making process within TP S.A. is systematically being marginalised. This is the consequence of the privatisation of TP S.A., which is accompanied by job reductions in telecommunication. The penetration of unions is much lower than in the beginning of the 1990s. It is worth mentioning that trade unions are absent within the structures of mobile phone operators - even in the case of PTK Centertel, a TP S.A. subsidiary. This weakness of the trade unions has some important implications, most notably low relevance of collective agreements in the sector.

1. Sectoral properties

The fixed-line telephony market in Poland is characterised by the strong dominant position of the Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. Group. The report on the telecoms market in 2005 unveiled by the Office of Electronic Communications (Urząd Komunikacji Elektronicznej, UKE), a government authority, on 20 June 2006 indicates that TP S.A. controls 89.9% of fixed-line subscriber links in Poland. Telefonia Dialog S.A. controls 3.2% of all subscriber links in the country, and Netia S.A. – 2.9%. The TP S.A. Group presently accounts for 84.98% of the aggregate profit realised by Poland’s telecoms sector. That said, it must be noted that the market share of TP S.A. has been steadily decreasing, if only slowly.

The situation is quite different as regards the mobile telephony market. The mobile market in Poland is divided between three operators - Polkomtel S.A. (PLUS GSM, Simplus, and Sami Swoi), Polska Telefonia Komórkowa Centertel Sp. z o.o. (a member of the TP S.A. Group, operator of the Orange, Orange Go, and PoP brands – in September 2005, the company underwent a rebranding exercise, shedding its familiar Idea brand in favour of the internationally recognised Orange), and Polska Telefonia Cyfrowa Sp. z o.o. (Era, Era TAK TAK and Era BIZNES, Heyah).

Under the legislative Act of 16 July 2004 – the Telecommunications Law, regulatory duties for the telecoms sector are entrusted to the minister charged with communications (presently the Minister of Transport) and to the President of the Office of Electronic Communications. Polish government policy in this area generally follows the objectives of fostering competition in the provision of access to telecoms networks and in provision of telecoms services; the pertinent authorities also seek to provide users with maximum benefits with respect to pricing and to variety and quality of telecoms services. The regulatory bodies also attend to administrative tasks associated with frequency management and assignment of numbering.

Juxtaposing the avowed goals of Polish regulatory policy with the data describing TP S.A.’s share of the fixed-line market, one can’t help but conclude that, for the moment being, whatever pro-competition measures the Polish government may have taken have had meagre results. Even if TP S.A.’s share in the fixed-line market has been displaying a downward tendency, the results in this regard fall short of the expectations of customers and of other telecoms operators.

Table 1. Telecommunications Sector in Poland – Basic Data (The statistics does not include TV and radio)
Table Layout

1.1. (The statistics does not include TV and radio)

31 December 1994

31 December 2005 r.*

Number of companies



Aggregate employment*

206 persons employed in companies with 0 to 5 employees (including the self-employed)

3,630 persons employed in companies with 0 to 9 employees

Male employment*


According to trade union representatives, most of the self-employed and most employees of small companies are men.

Female employment*


Aggregate employees***



Male employees



Female employees



Aggregate sectoral employment as a % of total employment in the economy

0.5 – 0.6%

14,203,000 (Zatrudnienie w Polsce 2005, edited by Maciej Bukowski)


14,390,000 (GUS; BAEL – Business Activity of the Population Studies)

Aggregate sectoral employees as a % of the total number of employees in the economy

0.8% (own calculations; 9,676,000 employed pursuant to employment contracts)

Approx 0.5 % (own calculations; 11,231,000 employees, excluding 2,972,000 self-employed persons)

* Employees plus self-employed persons and agency workers.

** Or most recent data.

*** Enterprises retaining more than 5 employees in 1994 and more than 9 employees in 2005.

Source: Data obtained from the Central Statistical Office for Poland (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS). The indices presented here are from 1994, not 1993, because the business activity statistics maintained then are not compatible with the Polish Classification of Activities and, consequently, with NACE; accordingly, any comparison of the data is possible only if 1994 figures are used. This data, however, refers only to enterprises retaining more than 5 employees in 1994 and more than 9 employees in 2005; data for the self-employed and for business entities not meeting these employment criteria, meanwhile, are taken from the national register of entities operating in the national economy (REGON).

2. The sector’s unions and employer associations

Trade union activity in Poland’s telecommunications sector is essentially confined to a single enterprise - Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. The remaining fixed-line operators (Telefonia Dialog S.A, Netia S.A.) and mobile operators (Polkomtel S.A., Polska Telefonia Komórkowa Centertel Sp. z o.o., and Polska Telefonia Cyfrowa Sp. z o.o.), which first entered the market in the 1990s, offered good remuneration packages to their new hires, leaving them with little motivation to unionise. As much has been suggested in discussions with union representatives as well as with employees of non-unionised companies. Given that the industry is becoming increasingly competitive, however, the employees are forced to increase their efficiency. In the face of such pressure for greater effectiveness, employees of companies which did not have any unions now feel it necessary to institute formal workforce representation, but these new aspirations towards unionisation are not welcomed by the management of the employing enterprises concerned. There are several factors contributing to reluctance to establish a union, among those there is a general concern about potential job losses.

  • The National Section of Telecommunications Employees of NSZZ Solidarity (Sekcja Krajowa Pracowników Telekomunikacji NSZZ ‘Solidarność’, SKPT NSZZ Solidarność);
  • The Federation of Telecommunications Employee Trade Unions in the Republic of Poland (Federacja Związków Zawodowych Pracowników Telekomunikacji w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej, FZZPT),an organisation affiliated with All-Polish Agreement of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ);
  • The Trade Union of Engineers and Technicians (Związek Zawodowy Inżynierów i Techników, ZZIiT), a member organisation of Forum of Trade Unions (Forum Związków Zawodowych, FZZ);
  • The Confderation of the Telecommunications Employee Trade Unions (Konfederacja Związku Zawodowego Pracowników Telekomunikacji, KZZPT), likewise a FZZ member;
  • The August ’80 Free Trade Union (Wolny Związek Zawodowy ‘Sierpień 80’, WZZ Sierpień 80).

Of these organisations, the largest membership headcounts are boasted by the first three (logically enough, if one considers that NSZZ Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy ‘Solidarność’, NSZZ Solidarność) and OPZZ are, respectively, the first- and second-largest union organisations in the country). And thus, the National Section of Telecommunications Employees of NSZZ Solidarność has approximately 6,000 members, the Federation of Telecommunications Employee Trade Unions in the Republic of Poland – approximately 4,000, and the Trade Union of Engineers and Technicians – 2,000 members.

As already mentioned, union activity in Poland’s telecoms sector is practically limited to Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. and, on a smaller scale, to companies carved out of the TP S.A. monolith (see also PL0605019I). The TP S.A. Group’s own employment figures as at late 2005 speak of a total of 33,603 employees (slightly less than 30,000 in Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. itself and the rest in PTK Centertel Sp. z o.o.). This would mean that more than 30% of TP S.A. Group employees belong to a union. The unionisation index for the entire telecoms sector, meanwhile, would be slightly over 20% (estimate based on information from the social partners).

A survey carried out by the Public Opinion Research Centre (Centrum Badania Opinii Społecznej), in 2003 indicated that the unionisation level in transport and communications stands at 32.4%.

Membership in union organisations is voluntary and, accordingly, no group of employees is deprived of the possibility of joining a union should they feel the inclination. Information made available to the author by the chairwoman of the largest union organisation active at TP S.A., the National Section of Telecommunications Employees of NSZZ Solidarność, indicates that her organisation’s members include some directors and managerial staff. Estimating the degree of unionisation of any particular employee group, however, would be very difficult.

The national register of entities operating in the national economy (REGON) does not include information about the scope of activity by employer organisations in the telecoms sector. One member of the TP S.A. Group – PTK Centertel Sp. z o. o. – is a member of the Confederation of Polish Employers (Konfederacja Pracodawców Polskich, KPP); TP S.A. proper, meanwhile, is associated with the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan (Polska Konfederacja Pracodawców Prywatnych ‘Lewiatan’, PKPP Lewiatan), as are the other two mobile operators - Polkomtel S.A. and Polska Telefonia Cyfrowa Sp. z o.o. It nonetheless appears that the economic potential of the principal fixed-line and mobile telephony operators enables them to function as social dialogue entities in their own right, for instance as consultants for documents drafted by the Office of Electronic Communications. As a result, these companies’ involvement in employer representation is limited.

The smaller telecoms companies apparently tend not to join any employer organisations, although it is difficult to present accurate figures due to lack of data.

Sekretariat Lacznosci NSZZ Solidarność is a member of UNI EUROPA TELECOM. SKPT NSZZ Solidarnosc is a part of Sekretariat Lacznosci NSZZ Solidarność. This latter one also includes Sekcja Krajowa Pracowników Transportu Samochodowego Łączności (transport) and Sekcja Krajowa Pracowników Poczty (post)

There are several employees' unions at the enterprise level acting within the TP S. A.. The Council of Federations of In-house Union Organisations was founded to represent organizations at the enterprise level in process of signing the collective agreement.

Membership in union organisations is voluntary and, accordingly, no group of employees is deprived of the possibility of joining a union should they feel the inclination.

There are no official limitations with regard to possible inclusion of any professional group active in the telecommunication industry in the activity of trade unions. Similarly, no part of that sector is officially closed to trade unions. For further information, please see item 3 (Inter-associational relationships)

WZZ August 80 is not affiliated to any national union confederation.

Sekretariat Lacznosci NSZZ Solidarność is a member of UNI EUROPA. No data relating to other unions.

3. Inter-associational relationships

Interviews conducted by the author with representatives of the various trade unions suggest that, (to wit NSZZ Solidarity versus OPZZ – organisations whose roots lie, respectively, with the democratic opposition of the early 1980s and with the official, state-approved union movement before 1989). It is obvious that such conflicts between the unions can impede the closing of agreements with the employing organisation. A more recent conflict is that between NSZZ Solidarność and WZZ Sierpień ’80, centring on alleged embezzlement of union funds by the latter. Apart from the Trade Union of Engineers and Technicians, which admits its members strictly on the basis of their vocational specialisation, all the union organisations named above are open to all prospective members working in the telecoms sector. Accordingly, there is considerable overlap in the scope of their activities. It is worth adding, however, that the structures of the National Section of Telecommunications Employees of NSZZ Solidarność are the most developed; when compared to the latter, the organisation of the WZZ August ’80 appears relatively limited.

To look at the activities of employer organisations insofar as they refer to the telecoms sector, it is absolutely impossible to talk about competition; almost all the companies in question are members of PKPP Lewiatan. The companies operating in the sector generally form a united front in favour of liberalisation in the telecoms market, although the TP S.A. group – benefiting as it does from the status quo – favours a considerably slower pace of reforms.

4. The system of collective bargaining

The only multi-employer collective agreement executed in the telecommunications sector was at Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. It was executed on 25 June 1998 in association with the imminent privatisation; subject to some amendments, it remains in force to this day. The collective agreement was signed by the board of directors of Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. on the one hand and by the following union organisations on the other:

  • The National Commission of NSZZ Solidarność;
  • The Board of the FZZPT;
  • The Council of Federations of In-House Union Organisations of Telecommunications and Radio Communications Employees in Poland (Federacja Zakładowych Organizacji Związkowych Pracowników Telekomunikacji i Radiokomunikacji w Polsce);
  • The National Board of ZZIiT;
  • The National Board of NSZZ Solidarność ‘80, (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Solidarnosc’80, NSZZ Solidarność’80);
  • The National Board of the Kontra Trade Union, (Związek Zawodowy ‘Kontra’, ZZ Kontra);
  • The Presidium of KZZPT.

The collective agreement has application to all TP S.A. employees other than board members and directors, i.e. to over 50% of the sector’s aggregate workforce.

5. Formulation and implementation of sector-specific public policies

The Office of Electronic Communications, the regulatory body charged with telecoms sector policy, carries on consultations with the largest entities operating in the telecoms market, i.e. with entities which might be interested in changes in this area depending on decisions ultimately taken by the president of the Office. The role played by the unions in this arrangement is marginal at best. Bodies with which UKE consults its plans include the National Chamber of Commerce for Electronics and Telecommunications (Krajowa Izba Gospodarcza Elektroniki i Telekomunikacji, KIGEiT), the Polish Chamber of Electronic Communications (Polska Izba Informatyki i Telekomunikacji, PIIT), and the Association for Safeguarding of Telecommunications Service Consumer Rights (Stowarzyszenie Ochrony Praw Konsumentów Usług Telekomunikacyjnych, SOPKUT).

There is no tripartite institution dedicated to the telecoms sector, and it is but rarely that institutions dealing with industrial relations in general focused on labour relations in this particular industry. On one occasion, the Tripartite Commission for Socio-Economic Issues (Trójstronna Komisja ds. Społeczno – Gospodarczych, TK) devoted a meeting to discussion of a conflict at Telekomunikacja Polka S.A. (PL0504101F). The Regional Social Dialogue Commissions (Wojewódzkie Komisje Dialogu Społecznego, WKDS) have demonstrated a similar reluctance to weigh in on transformations in the telecommunications market; it was only on two occasions that issues relating to the telecoms sector were debated at regional level. – in April 2005 (at the WKDS forum held in Gdańsk) and in December 2003 (in Warsaw).

6. Statutory regulations of representativeness

To return for a moment to the question of collective agreements, it should be recalled that all registered unions operating within a given employing entity are entitled to sign collective agreements. The list of entities executing the single collective agreement executed in the Polish telecoms sector appears above.

As regards consultations within the Tripartite Commission, these are the exclusive province of union organisations recognised as ‘representative’, i.e. NSZZ Solidarność, OPZZ and FZZ.


To date, progressing liberalisation of the telecommunications sector in Poland has failed to materially diminish the dominant market position of Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. While it is possible to talk about an established tendency for TP S.A.’s market share to shrink, but this is a very slow process. TP S.A.’s strong market position also flows from the fact that it controls much of the physical infrastructure for fixed-line telephony. The large-scale redundancies notwithstanding, TP S.A. also remains an industry behemoth in terms of employment. Any further lay-offs are far from certain at the moment; the fact that, as of late, TP S.A. has been turning quite a respectable profit is proving to be a potent argument to shore up the position of the unions (which, of course, are opposed to any further redundancies).

From the perspective of qualitative development of Poland’s telecommunications market, it is very important that Telekomunikacja Polska S.A. does not abuse its dominant position. As discussed above, responsibility for fostering competition in the telecoms market rests with the Office of Electronic Communications. In theory, this authority has much of its work cut short for it in that the pertinent laws are very much pro-competition; the sole problem lies in effective enforcement of these rules.

From the perspective of the consumer, meanwhile, much importance should attach to consultations between the Office of Electronic Communications and the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection (Urząd Ochrony Konkurencji i Konsumentów, UOKiK).

Analysis of the telecommunications market in Poland and of social partners’ activity in this area leads one to wonder if, and when, union structures will be established at the enterprises operating mobile telephony networks. All too often, increased competitiveness of mobile operators is achieved at the expense of employment terms and conditions. Given these factors, a drive for protection of employee interests through unionisation would appear obvious. It is impossible to predict, however, if – and when – this scenario might come to pass. In practice, however, quite a different scenario may play itself out, one where not trade unions, but work councils will take up the cause.

Piotr Sula

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