Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July 2014, 16:05 GMT

The Global State of Workers' Rights - Poland

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 31 August 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Poland, 31 August 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d4fc7f61e.html [accessed 10 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

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Labor relations are governed by a 1974 labor code. All workers, including security personnel, are permitted to organize and join trade unions, with the exception of those who are self-employed or working under individual contracts. However, union members are allegedly harassed, threatened, and intimidated by employers, and union officials do not have sufficient protection against dismissal and other forms of antiunion discrimination. In recent years, employers have fired workers, closed workplaces, and terminated contracts to counter union activity. There have also been reports of employers penalizing those trying to organize unions and awarding raises to those who refuse to participate in strikes.

Polish citizens can petition the government, assemble freely, and engage in collective bargaining. Workers have the right to strike after mediation efforts have failed, except those working in essential services such as law enforcement. Public demonstrations require permits from local authorities. The legal process for calling strikes is complicated, and the labor courts are often slow in determining the legality of strikes. Unions have charged that courts are ineffective in dealing with employers who punish strikers, as the applicable fines are inadequate. Police reportedly used force against workers during an antigovernment protest in April 2009, injuring 50 people.

As of January 2009, some 16 percent of all workers were unionized. The three main trade unions are the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity, the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ), and the Forum of Trade Unions (FZZ). Solidarity and the OPZZ are members of the International Labour Organization, and Solidarity is also a member of the European Trade Union Confederation. Political alignments are still visible in Polish trade unions; the OPZZ is generally aligned with the left-leaning social democratic parties, while Solidarity is oriented toward the right and openly supports the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party. The major trade unions' political leanings and activities have been blamed for their low membership. Between 25 and 33 percent of unionized workers belong to smaller unions that are not affiliated with the three large federations.

A minimum of 10 workers is necessary to start a local trade union within a company. A single company can have several unions, which sometimes compete and sign agreements with employers without consulting one another, hindering the success of collective bargaining. In 2009, the government attempted to increase the membership threshold for a trade union to be eligible for collective bargaining within a company from 10 percent to between 25 and 33 percent. The Trilateral Committee for Social and Economic Affairs handles negotiations between workers, employers, and the government, as well as discussion of minimum wages and benefits. The law provides for independent union activity, but the courts have failed to protect small- to medium-sized unions from interference.

Polish trade unions have been criticized for their inability to adapt to an increasingly globalized market economy. Reforms have been limited, and unions continue to be organized to match the state-controlled economy of the early 1980s.

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