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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Poland

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Poland, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52cacfc.html [accessed 24 April 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.

Population: 38,100,000
Capital: Warsaw
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Employers' anti-union attitudes are on the rise. Several activists were dismissed from large multinationals. The right to strike is heavily restricted, and the growing number of self-employed workers still cannot form or join trade unions.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of Association: The law gives all workers, including civilian employees of the armed forces, police and border guards, the right to form and join trade unions. Self-employed workers are excluded. Civil servants cannot hold a trade union post. At least ten workers are needed to form a company-level trade union. Trade union organisations are required to give employers quarterly updates on the total number of trade union members.

The single trade union system applies to policemen, border guards and guards in penitentiary institutions, firemen of the State Fire Brigades and the employees of the Highest Supervision Chamber.

Right to collective bargaining: Collective bargaining is a recognised and protected right. Core civil service, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges and prosecutors do not have the right to bargain collectively. Anti-union discrimination is banned.

A 2007 amendment to the Labour Code gave collective bargaining a big role to play in teleworking. The conditions governing telework have to be agreed upon between the employer and the trade unions operating in the enterprise. If there is no trade union, the employer has to consult the workers' representatives. The only way the employer is allowed to establish the teleworking conditions unilaterally is if no agreement is reached within 30 days after the employer's plan has been presented to the trade unions.

Enforcement measures: A new law on the National Labour Inspectorate was enacted in 2007. The upper limit of the fine for violations of labour rights, including trade union rights, was increased from 2,000 PLN to 30,000 PLN (about 9,200 EUR). However, the highest fine imposed was only 10,000 PLN, for a fatal accident caused by an employer's negligence in especially hazardous conditions. The ITUC-affiliated NSZZ Solidarnosc reports that employers are not discouraged from obstructing organising, since the sanctions are weak.

Sanctions can be imposed on a trade union official who acts in breach of the Trade Union Law. The board chairman of the Metron company in Torun tried to invoke this provision when a trade union leader threatened a strike unless the trade union demands were met – according to the chairman, the union demands contradicted the law. However, both prosecutors and the district court concluded that no charges could be brought against a trade unionist, since the law does not clearly define which activities constitute a punishable offence.

Labour laws, including those which protect trade union rights, apply in the special economic zones.

Limited protection for trade union officials: The number of union officials protected from dismissal is dependent on the size of the union's membership. In some instances, only one union representative can be protected from dismissal, leaving many trade union officials without protection from anti-union discrimination.

Limitations on the right to strike and rules that curb trade union events: The right to strike is recognised, other than in essential services which are broadly defined (exceeding the ILO definition) to include uniformed services, state administration and local government, where workers only have the right to protest. Procedures for calling a strike are long and cumbersome. However, a strike may be organised without complying with these procedures if negotiations or conciliation become impossible due to the employer's unlawful behaviour, or if the employer fires the trade union official who represents the workers in the dispute. The law defines a strike as a collective refusal to work and strikes that fall outside that definition are not permitted.

The law on road traffic security (amended in 2005 without consultation with trade unions) imposes a number of complicated obligations on an organisation that wishes to organise a public event. According to the ITUC-affiliated NSZZ Solidarnosc, this law has been used to prevent trade union rallies.

Legislative reform may curb rights: The government's Labour Law Codification Commission prepared two draft laws to replace the Labour Code: the draft Collective Labour Code and the Draft Individual Labour Code. Both projects were criticised by trade union experts. The drafts significantly reduce trade union rights at the workplace and introduce the right to lock-out and more rigid rules on the legal personality of trade unions.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Frequent dismissals, unionists bribed to forfeit reinstatement: The forming of a trade union is frequently followed by summary dismissal of its leaders. The BZ WBK bank (owned by the Irish AIB group) branch in Ruda Slaska dismissed a shop steward on the grounds of "loss of trust" after anti-union harassment had been reported in the media.

When almost two-thirds of ELDROB Poultry Plant received redundancy notices, trade union members were told that they could keep their jobs only if they left their trade union.

Bribes and manipulation: The reinstatement of unfairly dismissed trade union leaders often takes around two years. In addition, in cases such as such as Alima-Gerber and Lionbridge (see below) trade union leaders are then offered a large monetary compensation in exchange for dropping their unfair dismissal lawsuits.

Surveillance: The use of surveillance techniques to intimidate trade unions is a growing trend. There were reports of employers tapping into trade unionists' telephone calls and monitoring their internet activities, posting photographs of dismissed trade unionists at the factory gates, and filming workers who went on protest rallies.

Data protection: Trade union membership is regarded as sensitive personal data. Normally, employers are prohibited from asking for a list of trade union members. However, the employers use indirect means to find out about workers' trade union membership, such as challenging trade union representativeness in court. For example, when the Faurecia company in Walbrzych challenged the trade union's representativeness and dismissed a leader, they were able to obtain membership lists via a court order.

Dong Yang (LG Electronics) – Special Economic Zone: In August, following the lengthy wage disputes at Dong Yang Electronics in the Special Economic Zone in Mlawa, the trade union held a strike ballot. The company management attended the ballot, making lists of those who voted, and on some sites there were more managers than workers. The strike ballot failed, but the union attributed it to the employers' intimidation, and organised another vote outside the company, where workers unanimously approved the strike. However, the employer considered the strike illegal based on the result of the first ballot.

The strike took place from 16 October – 25 November. The employer formally proposed a 5% wage increase on the basis of individual contracts, but only to those who did not go on strike. About 200 workers were dismissed, including three trade unionists. Meanwhile some 80 workers were brought in on a fixed-term basis. The management refused to talk to the trade union as long as it was represented by Edward Judziak, the shop steward. Workers who went on a protest rally in the company and in front of the Korean embassy (Dong Yang is a Korean company) were videotaped. The dismissed workers are currently seeking reinstatement in court.

Alima Gerber (Nestle group): In 2007, the Nestle group took over Alima Gerber (in the town of Rzeszow) where NSZZ Solidarnosc has successfully campaigned since 2004 for overtime pay, proper labour inspections, and the rights of temporary workers and of working mothers returning from maternity leave. On 5 September, the employer dismissed Jacek Kotula, the NSZZ Solidarnosc shop steward, for disclosing confidential information and acting against the company by enticing suppliers to negotiate higher prices. Kotula's dismissal was followed by the intimidation of trade union members and a threat of the plant closing down due to the Kotula media campaign. When he challenged his dismissal in court, Kotula was offered financial compensation for withdrawing the lawsuit, which he refused.

Lionbridge Technologies: A trade union organisation of the National Federation of Employees (KFP) in the Polish subsidiary of the translation services multinational Lionbridge was established in January. In February, a trade union leader Jakub G. was summarily dismissed, accused of disclosing confidential information, unauthorised transferral of company documents and acting against the employers' interests by posting false information on the Internet. The National Labour Inspectorate concluded that Jakub G.'s dismissal was illegal. The case is currently before the court.

Faurecia factories: In the French Car component producer, Faurecia, anti-union activities were reported in three factories (out of four). Union activists in Groject and Gorzow Wielkopolski were dismissed after they handed out trade union information leaflets outside the company premises and after working hours.

Consultation rights ignored: Employers often ignore the law that obliges them to consult trade unions prior to making decisions that affect workers. The works council at the Factory of Motor Cars (Fabryka Samochodów Osobowych) in Warsaw was able to enforce its right to be informed and consulted via a court ruling. This set a precedent, and some 20 similar petitions were pending in courts in April.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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