Temporary work under debate

Download article in original language : PL0210104NPL.DOC

In September 2002, the Polish government presented proposals to regulate the legal status of temporary work, which is a relatively new phenomenon in Poland. Despite the current lack of precise statutory regulations, this form of employment - including temporary agency work - has become increasingly popular in recent years, and is seen as an instrument for reducing unemployment.

Temporary work is a form of employment that has recently been introduced to the Polish labour market. For example, in terms of temporary agency work, according to the daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita, a total of 70 firms currently provide employee leasing services. In recent years, while the economic situation has steadily declined and unemployment has grown, temporary work, which previously existed on the margins of the labour market as a form of employment addressed almost exclusively to students - and as such is still largely unregulated - has become a permanent feature of Poland’s economic landscape.

High unemployment (with a rate of 17.4% in August 2002) has forced employees to adopt a more flexible attitude and accept forms of work that offer less stability than a normal contract of employment. The other equally important reason for employers to hire people on a temporary basis lies in the greater legal protection enjoyed by the employees hired under open-ended employment contracts, who may not be easily dismissed for any reason other than collective redundancies or a breach of workplace discipline.

Entrepreneurs have repeatedly stated that the Polish labour market is inflexible, and that this is a factor preventing efforts to overcome the current economic slowdown. Exasperated by the incompatibility of the law and real conditions, employers have resorted to such pragmatic solutions as replacing genuine contracts of employment with 'civil law contracts' (such as contracts for specific work). There have also been more dubious practices, such as hiring employees for a trial period of three months, at the end of which the contract is not extended, or forcing employees to start their own economic activity (self-employment), which means that they do not provide services to the employer but directly to the customers (while in practice the relationship between the workers and the employer remain unchanged). These measures have allowed employers to reduce their labour costs, giving them a free hand to adjust the level of employment according to their current needs and strengthening their position in relationships with employees.

The lack of precise statutory regulation is an obstacle to the promulgation of temporary work. A definition of temporary work has not even been included in the recent amendment of the Labour Code (PL0209107F). Yet it is interesting to note that Article 298 in the 'final provisions' chapter of the amended Labour Code regulates the relationship between an entity leasing an employee and an enterprise using the work of such an employee, while stipulating the obligations of both parties towards the hired workforce. The amended Labour Code also includes provisions concerning 'substitution agreements', a previously unknown type of employment for a limited period of time, whereby a temporary employee may be hired during the absence of a regular employee (eg on maternity leave).

The need to deal with the current legislative uncertainty is advocated mainly by temporary work agencies, which argue that temporary work is a panacea for high unemployment. In their activities, these agencies have been walking a 'legal tightrope', risking conflicts with labour inspection bodies or even facing court cases. The Association of Temporary Work Agencies (Związek Agencji Pracy Czasowej), the body lobbying for these agencies, has prepared a draft of a law on temporary work and submitted it to the Ministry of Labour (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, MPiPS). In September, the Ministry presented its own proposals to regulate the legal status of temporary work. This issue will have to be addressed in the near future anyway, as part of aligning Polish legislation with the 'acquis communautaire' (the body of EU law which candidate countries must adopt), since temporary work has been recognised and legitimised in EU Member States as an important instrument for combating unemployment.

The government has shown that its view of employment policy has evolved by making temporary employment the main element of 'First Job' (PL0208101N), its new programme of intervention based on subsidising the creation of jobs by companies for young people without any occupational experience (subsidies are granted for a limited period of time from six to 12 months). The programme aims to alleviate the effects of the extremely high unemployment among young people in Poland.

The recent amendment of the Labour Code suggests that the current shortage of work and deteriorating living conditions will induce increasing liberalisation of the labour market, which is perceived as a panacea for unemployment. This means that temporary employment will continue to be offered in various forms.

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