Last Updated: Friday, 21 November 2014, 13:47 GMT

2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Poland

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Poland, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca7413.html [accessed 23 November 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

The right to strike is heavily restricted, and a growing self-employed workforce still cannot form or join trade unions. At least twenty trade unionists lost their jobs because of employers' anti-union attitudes. In June the police used force on a peaceful sit-in protest, injuring three women trade unionists.

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, which restricts a trade union's right to elect their representatives. At least ten workers are needed to form a company-level trade union. Trade union organisations are required to give employers quarterly reports 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.

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.

An amendment to the Labour Code that came into force on 16 October gave collective bargaining a big role to play in teleworking. The conditions of ework should be agreed upon between the employer and the trade unions operating in the enterprise. If there is no trade union, the employer will have to consult with 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 project was presented to trade unions.

Enforcement measures: A new law on National Labour Inspectorate was enacted on 13 April. The upper limit of a 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 during the year was only 10 000 PLN for a fatal accident caused by employer's negligence in especially hazardous conditions.

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 fired a trade union official who represented workers in the dispute. The law defines a strike as a collective refusal to work, and strikes that fall outside this 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.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: Wages grew by approximately 10%, which, in addition to economic reasons, can be attributed to the ITUC-affiliated trade union confederation NSZZ Solidarnosc's six-months awareness campaign "Low wages – a barrier to Poland's development". The unemployment rate, although remaining one of the highest in Europe, has dropped to 12,8%. On the other hand, the government coalition collapsed in August, and early elections in October were won by the liberal Civic Platform. A number of strikes took place during the year.

Frequent dismissals: Trade unionists are often summarily dismissed on disciplinary grounds but in many cases trade unions go on a rally to protect their leaders. For example, on 10 May the workers of "Analda Zywiec Trade" company in Gdynia (belonging to Heineken group) gathered at the company gates to defend a dismissed shop steward; the European Works Council of Heineken was informed. Similar rallies took place in October near the premises of "Faurecia" company in Gorzow Wielkopolski (five members of the NSZZ Solidarnosc temporary enterprise commission were dismissed in July), near the premises of "Aluminium Metal Works Konin Impexmetal S.A." in Konin (trade union's negotiating team was dismissed), and near the "Selgros" company in Poznan, where several members of the just established NSZZ Solidarnosc enterprise commission got their jobs back following the rallies and negotiations. Trade union activists were dismissed, reportedly due to their activities, from Professional Training Company, the municipal fire brigade (both: city of Lublin) and the "Selgros" company in Poznan. In February 2007, Fiat GM Powertrain dismissed four young workers just after they joined a trade union.

Consultation rights ignored: Employers often ignore the law that obliges them to consult trade unions prior to making decisions that affect workers. In the spinning mill "Zawercie", the employer implemented new remuneration rules without consulting the NZSS Solidarnosc unit in the company. A rally was organised at the gates, with the participation of other local trade union colleagues. The management of Polish Railways in Gdynia implemented a number of regressive measures, such as division of wage supplements and change of working conditions, without consulting trade union; some social benefits were unilaterally revoked, and the management also used the company social fund. Trade unions in the Internal Revenue Office in Zielona Gora and in the "Galvanic Systems" company in Wielun were not consulted about the division of salary supplements.

LOT confiscated trade union computers: On 2 February the security services of LOT Polish Airlines entered the four trade union offices. Showing a written CEO instruction and referring to alleged leak of confidential information, the security took trade unions' hardware and software with the purpose of inspecting the data held. These computers contained not only trade union documentation and correspondence but also the personal data of trade union members. Following the action by NSZZ Solidarnosc enterprise commission and intervention of the ITF, the computers were returned on 14 February, and the then president of LOT Polish Airways was dismissed.

Anti-union employer methods: On 12 February a lawyer hired by "Solid Security" company was trying to force the members of Solidarnosc to leave the union. Workers were given resignation forms and were supposed to sign them in the presence of this lawyer. However, once a TV news reporter arrived, the lawyer made a quick exit. Solid has also been demoting or dismissing workers who were behind organising a Solidarnosc commission in the company.

On 19 March the management of FIAT Auto Poland in Bielsko-Biala called the members of Solidarnosc one by one and ordered them to sign the forms for resigning from trade union membership. Similar pressure was applied in "Group Ozarow S.A."

The Pepsi-Co-owned Frito Lay Ltd in Grodzisk Mazowiecki has been mentioned more than once in the previous editions of this Survey and the reports of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association. While one of the dismissed trade unionists has been re-instated, another shop steward has been waiting for the verdict for more than two years. Meanwhile, employer's anti-union tactics, such as forcing workers to leave the NSZZ Solidarnosc organisation and unauthorised collection of trade unionists' personal data, remain unpunished. On 19 July the District Court for the Capital City of Warsaw upheld an earlier decision of the district prosecutor, which closed the investigation of the Frito Lay case. The prosecutor essentially decided that trade union violations, as alleged by the union, did not happen. NSZZ Solidarnosc intended to challenge this decision in the European Court of Human Rights.

Demonstration dispersed: On 20 June police attacked a peaceful sit-in of healthcare workers affiliated to the All-Polish Trade Union Alliance (OPZZ). A day before, thousands of trade unionists marched on the streets of Warsaw in protest against the government policies and asked for a meeting with the prime minister. When the meeting was granted, nobody with the mandate to negotiate was present on the OPZZ side, and around 30 nurses, mostly women, stayed in front of the prime minister's office for the night. At 7:15 a.m., members of the special police unit for the street riots moved in and pushed the nurses to the fence, which led to women trampling over each other. Three nurses collapsed and had to be taken away by the ambulance.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld

Countries