Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 13:14 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Poland

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Poland, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa8b24.html [accessed 11 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.
POLAND

 

Poland is a parliamentary democracy based on a multiparty political system and free and fair elections. President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who defeated Lech Walesa in Poland's second postwar free Presidential election in November, shares power with the Prime Minister, the Council of Ministers, and the bicameral Parliament (Senate and Sejm). The coalition Government, composed of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), a successor to the former Communist party, and the Polish Peasant Party, a successor to the Peasant Party of the Communist era, continues to enjoy a nearly two-thirds majority in both houses of Parliament. In addition to the 1990 and 1995 Presidential elections, Poland has held two parliamentary elections in the 6 years since the end of communism.

The armed forces and the internal security apparatus are subject to governmental authority and are under civilian control. The precise division of authority over the military between the President and Prime Minister continues to be the subject of debate. In this election year, both the military and the police were accused of engaging in incidents of partisan campaign activity in violation of existing law requiring that these institutions be apolitical. One Interior Ministry general was fired as a result. The Ministry of Defense was conducting an inquiry into the incidents in the army in early autumn.

Poland's economy registered strong growth (5 percent), and its level of exports continued to reflect an expanding economy. The pace of implementation of free market reforms including privatization slowed in 1994 and early 1995 but picked up under the Oleksy Government. The official registered unemployment rate has declined compared to previous years, standing at 15.1 percent. However, specific sectors of the population, such as women and younger and semiskilled workers, continue to remain particularly vulnerable and more acutely feel the effects of the restructuring or closing of large state enterprises. Discontent continues among a significant minority who believe that the transition to a market economy has left them worse off than before.

While the Government generally respected most of its citizens' human rights, there were some abuses. Freedom of speech and the press are subject to some limitations. There have been several incidents of intolerance toward minorities. Persons of color and Asian or Arab descent have been subject to attack by radical elements of society. Lack of public confidence as well as an inadequate budget plague the court system. Court decisions are frequently not implemented, particularly in the administrative courts, and simple civil cases can take as long as 2 or 3 years before they are resolved. Low salaries for prosecutors and judges resulted in many leaving public service for more lucrative employment. Prison conditions are poor.

The threat of organized crime has provoked legislative responses that could threaten the right to privacy. Although the rights to organize and bargain collectively were largely observed, there were employer violations of other worker rights provided by law, particularly in the growing private sector. Women continue to experience serious discrimination in the labor market, are not full participants in political life, and are subject to various legal inequities as a consequence of paternalistic laws. Spousal abuse is a serious problem.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

Grzegorz Piotrowski, a former Polish security police captain who was jailed for the murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko and released on parole in October 1994, was sent back to jail for a period of 5 years after a Supreme Court review. The trial of two militiamen accused of beating to death Grzegorz Przemyk, a student, in 1983, continues. The police are accused of covering up the death and blaming it on the ambulance drivers who took Przemyk to the hospital. The prosecution has been unable to establish the names of all militiamen involved in the incident.

Police closed the investigation into the case of two homeless persons who were allegedly beaten to death by police in 1993. The prosecutor determined that someone murdered one of the homeless persons but found he did not have enough evidence to indict the accused officers. The prosecutor further determined that it was unclear whether the second homeless person was murdered. Human rights monitors believe that one of the homeless was, in fact, murdered by a police officer and that the prosecutor closed the case prematurely.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Criminal Code prohibits torture, and there were no reported incidents of it.

In a March letter to the Prime Minister, the Commissioner for for Civil Rights Protection (Ombudsman) charged that the condition of many detention facilities and prisons is poor and that several dozen should be closed in whole or in part for renovation. The Ombudsman recommended that actions be taken to lower the prison population, including the decriminalization of certain offenses, such as failure to pay alimony. The Government permits visits to civilian prisons by human rights monitors.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. There were no reports of such acts. The law allows a 48-hour detention period before authorities are required to bring formal charges, during which detainees are normally denied access to a lawyer. Once a prosecutor presents the legal basis for a formal investigation, the law provides the detainee access to a lawyer. Detainees may be held under "temporary" arrest for up to 3 months and may challenge the legality of an arrest through appeal to the district court. A court may extend this pretrial confinement period every 3 months until the trial date. Bail is available, and human rights organizations report that most detainees were released on bail pending trial.

The Government does not employ forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial branch is independent from the President and the Government. Poland has a three-tier court system, consisting of regional and provincial courts and a Supreme Court which is divided into five divisions: military, civil, criminal, labor, and family. Judges are nominated by the National Judicial Council and appointed by the President. Judges are appointed to the bench for life and can be reassigned but not dismissed, except by a decision of the National Judicial Council. The Constitutional Tribunal rules on the constitutionality of legislation, but its decisions may be overruled by an absolute majority in the Sejm.

All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. At the end of a trial the court renders its decision orally and then has 7 days to prepare a written decision. A defendant has the right to appeal a decision within 14 days of the written decision. Appeals may be made on, among other grounds, the basis of new evidence or procedural irregularities.

Criminal cases are tried in regional and provincial courts by a panel consisting of a professional judge and two lay assessors. The seriousness of the offense determines which of these is the court of first instance. Once formal charges are filed the defendant is allowed to study the charges and consult with an attorney, who is provided at public expense if necessary. Once the defendant is prepared, a trial date is set. Defendants are required to be present during trial and may present evidence and confront witnesses in their own defense. The right to testify is universal. A law allowing for the use of incognito witnesses, designed to assist in combating organized crime, threatens a defendant's ability to confront witnesses.

Trials are normally public. The court, however, reserves the right to close a trial to the public in some circumstances, such as divorce cases, trials in which state secrets may be disclosed, or cases whose content might offend "public morality." The court rarely invokes this prerogative.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the right to privacy of correspondence. There is no legislation that guarantees the general right to privacy, although Poland has signed the European human rights convention, which provides for that right. In response to the growing threat of organized crime and money laundering, the Parliament passed a law in July permitting the police and secret services to monitor private correspondence and to use wire taps and electronic monitoring devices in cases involving a serious crime, narcotics, money laundering, or illegal arms sales. The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Interior, both political appointees, must authorize these investigative methods. In emergency cases, the police may initiate an investigation using wiretaps or opening private correspondence at the same time that they file an application for permission with the ministries to engage in these activities. There is no independent judicial review of these decisions nor is there a control mechanism over how the information derived from these investigations will be used.

The law forbids arbitrary forced entry into homes. Search warrants issued by a prosecutor are required in order to enter private residences. In emergency cases when a prosecutor is not immediately available, police may enter a residence with the approval of the local police commander. In the most urgent cases, in which there is not time to consult with the police commander, police may enter a private residence after showing their official identification. There were no reports that police abused search warrant procedures.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Although these freedoms are generally guaranteed in the Constitution, they are subject to some restrictions in law and practice.

Citizens may generally express their opinions publicly and privately. The Penal Code, however, states that anyone who "publicly insults, ridicules, and derides the Polish nation, Polish People's Republic, its political system, or its principal organs is punishable by between 6 months and 8 years of imprisonment." The Code imposes a prison term of up to 10 years for a person who commits any of the prohibited acts in print or through the mass media. In October Presidential candidate Leszek Bubel was charged with violating this law. Bubel claimed on a radio program that, when he served as deputy prosecutor general, a former head of the Presidential chancellery protected a group of criminals.

The Penal Code also stipulates that offending religious sentiment through public speech is punishable by a fine or a 2-year prison term. Father Stanislaw Jankowski is currently being investigated for violation of this law for an allegedly anti-Semitic sermon he gave in Gdansk in June. Catholic organizations have challenged the legality of certain films and images published in the press on the basis of this provision. In October a provincial court charged presidential candidate Leszek Bubel with violating this article by publishing a pamphlet containing anti-Semitic humor. An investigation continues into the August 1994 case involving the weekly magazine Wprost which printed an image of the Black Madonna and Child in gas masks as a means of dramatizing the seriousness of environmental pollution. The print media in Poland are uncensored and independent, although they may be subject to prosecution under the Penal Code provisions described above.

In January, in a review of a 1994 case against newspaper editor Waclaw Bialy, the Supreme Court ruled that a prosecutor or a judge, in the context of a criminal trial, may request that a journalist divulge the name of a source. The penalty for noncompliance is a fine of approximately $2,000 (5,000 new zloty) and 1 month in jail.

In July the Government sold 2 percent of its shares in the only remaining government controlled company publishing a major newspaper, thereby ceasing to have a controlling interest. However, the national wire service, PAP, is still government-owned. There is no restriction on the establishment of private newspapers or distribution of journals. Books expressing a wide range of political and social viewpoints are widely available, as are foreign periodicals. Foreign publications and foreign radio broadcasts are also widely available.

The National Broadcasting Council (NBC) has broad interpretive powers in supervising programming on public television, allocating broadcasting frequencies and licenses and apportioning subscription revenues. In order to encourage the NBC's apolitical character, the nine NBC members are obliged under the law to suspend any membership in political parties or public associations. They were, however, chosen for their political allegiances and nominated by the Sejm, the Senate, and the President following political bargaining, raising serious questions about the independence of broadcasting from political influence. Polsat Corporation continues to hold an exclusive nationwide concession for private television. The broadcasting law stipulates that programs should not promote activities that are illegal or against Polish state policy, morality, or the common good. The law also requires that all broadcasts "respect the religious feelings of the audiences and in particular respect the Christian system of values." The law does not fully define the term "Christian values." The Constitutional Tribunal has confirmed the constitutionality of this provision. Since the NBC has the ultimate responsibility for supervising the content of programs, these restrictions could be used as a means of censorship. The penalty for violating this provision of the law is up to 50 percent of a broadcaster's annual fee for the transmission frequency, plus the prospect of having the license withdrawn or experiencing difficulty in renewal when it expires.

Academic freedom is generally respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right to assembly and association. Permits are not necessary for public meetings but are required for public demonstrations; demonstration organizers must obtain these permits from local authorities if the demonstration might block a public road. For large demonstrations, organizers are also required to inform the local police of the time and place of their activities and their planned route. Every gathering must have a chairman who is required to open the demonstration, preside over it, and close it.

Private associations need governmental approval to organize and must register with their district court. The procedure essentially requires the organization to sign a declaration that it will abide by the laws of Poland. In practice, however, the procedure itself is complicated and may be subject to the discretion of the judge in charge.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution, as amended, provides for freedom of conscience and belief, and the Government respects this right in practice. Citizens enjoy the freedom to practice any religion they choose. Religious groups may organize, select, and train personnel, solicit and receive contributions, publish, and engage in consultations without government interference. There are no government restrictions on establishing and maintaining places of worship.

More than 95 percent of Poles are Roman Catholic, but Eastern Orthodox, Ukrainian Catholic, and much smaller Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim congregations meet freely. Although the Constitution provides for the separation of church and state, state-run radio broadcasts Catholic mass on Sundays. The Catholic Church is authorized to relicense radio and television stations to operate on frequencies assigned to the Church, the only body outside the NBC allowed to do so.

In January a "soldier's prayer book", authored by General Kazimierz Tomaszewski, Chief of the Warsaw Military District, was published for the military. The book states that members of a special honor guard who do not take part in military mass are considered to be disobeying orders. While this publication does not constitute law, it bears the same weight. Ombudsman Zielinski met this year with Field Bishop Leszek Slawoj Glodz about deleting this requirement from the book, but no change had been made by year's end.

While the Sejm ratified the human rights protocol guaranteeing parents the right to bring up their children in compliance with their own religious and philosophical beliefs, religious education classes continue to be taught in the public schools, at public expense. While children are supposed to have the choice between religious instruction and ethics, a spokesperson from the Office of the Ombudsman stated that in many schools, there is no such choice. Although Catholic Church representatives teach the vast majority of religious classes in the schools, parents can request religious classes in any of the religions legally registered in Poland, including Protestant, Orthodox, and Jewish religious instruction. Such non-Catholic religious instruction exists in practice, and the instructors are paid by the Ministry of Education. The spokesperson for the Ombudsman's office also stated that scouting organizations, which receive government funding, include in their pledges mention of Catholic religious symbols. In August the Ombudsman wrote a letter to the Ministry of Interior protesting the language in these pledges: at year's end he had not received a response. In September the Minister of Education agreed with the episcopate to allow church representatives to be included on a commission charged with qualifying books for school use.

A government-proposed resolution on ratification of the Concordat, a treaty regulating relations between the Government and the Vatican signed in 1993, remains under consideration in the Sejm. Critics of the Concordat have called for legislation requiring the Church to register all church marriages with civil authorities and forbidding the Church from denying burial to non-Catholics in cemeteries it controls.

The Council of Polish-Jewish relations, established by former President Lech Walesa, ceased to exist when Walesa's term expired on December 23. Kwasniewski has not stated whether he would create a similar body. Several of the Council's members had resigned to protest the dormancy of the Council, especially during events of crucial importance to the Jewish community in Poland.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Although the Constitution does not address freedom of movement, the Government does not restrict internal or foreign travel. Citizens who have left Poland have no trouble returning. There are no restrictions on emigration.

The Government generally cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens have the right and ability peacefully to change their government. This right is provided for in the Constitution and exists in practice. Poland is a multiparty democracy in which all citizens 18 years of age and older have the right to vote and to cast secret ballots. A 1990 law prohibits Poles living abroad who still retain their Polish citizenship from voting in the second round of Presidential elections. The Ombudsman is currently studying this law and may recommend revision.

Executive power is divided between the President and a government chosen by Parliament, which is composed of an upper house (the Senate) and a lower house (the Sejm). The Constitution provides for parliamentary elections at least every 4 years. The President, elected for 5 years, has the right to dissolve Parliament following a vote of no confidence or when Parliament fails to pass a budget within 3 months after the Government submits it. Parliament may impeach the President. The electoral law exempts ethnic minority parties from the requirement to win 5 percent of the vote nationwide in order to qualify for seats in individual districts.

In February the President threatened to dissolve Parliament claiming that it failed to pass a budget within the constitutional time limit. The President then acknowledged that the constitutional conditions were not met, but harshly attacked then Prime Minister Pawlak and demanded his resignation. The ruling coalition subsequently agreed that Pawlak should resign and approved a new cabinet shortly thereafter under Jozef Oleksy.

The current interim Constitution consists of the "Small Constitution" of 1992, governing the structure of government, and several sections of the 1952 Communist-era Constitution, including a bill of rights. The latter includes so-called economic rights. The interim Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The National Assembly's (joint Sejm and Senate) Constitutional Commission continued its work on drafting a new constitution, begun in 1994. Seven versions of a constitution, submitted by various parties, including the President and the Senate, are before the Commission. The Commission will submit a single composite version for consideration by the National Assembly with bracketed minority language on controversial points. There is no legal deadline for completion of work on the new constitution, although the current chairman has targeted early 1996 for submission to the National Assembly and the summer of 1996 for a national referendum.

Women are underrepresented in government and politics. They comprise 13 percent of parliamentarians. Of a total of 17 ministries, only 1 is headed by a women. With the exception of the Prime Minister's spokesperson, there are no women in senior positions in the Cabinet Office. None of the leaders of the parties represented in Parliament is a women. One of the three Vice Marshals of the Sejm is a woman.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Helsinki Committee, a major nongovernmental organization (NGO), conducted human rights investigations without government interference in 1995. Members of the Committee reported that the Government displays a generally positive and helpful attitude towards human rights investigations. Some local NGO's, however, sense that there is a hostile regulatory climate developing within the government bureaucracy.

Two government organizations monitor human rights in Poland. The office of the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (The Ombudsman), established in 1987, is an independent body with broad authority to investigate alleged violations of civil rights and liberties. The Ombudsman registers each reported case and files grievances, where appropriate, with the relevant government office. He has no legislative authority and is sworn to act apolitically. In late 1995, the current Ombudsman, Tadeusz Zielinski, however, declared his candidacy for President without resigning from the Ombudsman position, prompting criticism that his actions may not be free from political motivation.

A second governmental institution, the Senate Office for Intervention, investigates a wide range of grievances. In addition to responding to grievances, it may also investigate judicial proceedings. Created in 1989, the Office conducts investigations and refers legitimate cases to Senators whom the investigator feels will be sympathetic to the grievance, regardless of their district or political affiliation. If no Senator wishes to become involved in the case, the Office presents it to another senator or senators until it finds someone willing to pursue the matter. The Office does not release public reports.

There are no restrictions on visits by international organizations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution calls for equal rights "irrespective of sex, birth, education, profession, nationality, race, religion, social status, and origin." Other clauses provide equal rights to women and religious minorities. Representatives of gay rights groups allege that there is discrimination in housing and the workplace. Former President Lech Walesa openly opposed their call for a constitutional provision prohibiting discrimination based on sexual preference.

Women

Violence against women continued to be a problem, with occasional reports in the press of wife beating and spousal rape. According to a government report, 41 percent of women questioned said that they know someone personally who has been beaten by their husband. The report also stated that the Government does not have a program addressing violence towards women, nor has it provided an adequate research tool to determine the extent of the problem. Government statistics do not differentiate between male and female victims of violence. In addition, the Government has not supplied public information on the problem. Police do intervene in cases of domestic violence, and husbands can be convicted for beating their wives. A first offender is put on probation, and the penalty for a second offense is 8 to 12 months in prison.

Trafficking in women is illegal. Two specific provisions in the Criminal Code address this problem. However, according to the government report, there is an increase in the incidence of such trafficking; most often, Polish women are induced to work as prostitutes in Western Europe, often under false pretenses.

No statistical data are available about the extent of sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace, although anecdotal evidence indicates that workplace discrimination is a serious problem. According to some activists, few complaints about harassment or discrimination are registered because of the lack of specific provisions in the Labor Code that provide for redress.

The Constitution provides for equal rights regardless of sex and grants women equal rights with men in all fields of public, political, economic, social, and cultural life, including equal pay for equal work. However, while the Constitution calls for equal treatment, it contains provisions which aim at protecting women rather than offering them true equality. In practice, women are frequently paid less for equivalent work, mainly hold lower level positions, are discharged more quickly, and are less likely to be promoted than men. A report issued by a committee of nongovernmental organizations in preparation for the fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing (NGO Report) states that women earn on average 30 percent less than men for similar work.

Although women are employed in a broad variety of professions and occupations, and a few women occupy high positions in government and in the private sector, legal barriers, such as clauses in social insurance law limiting child sick care benefits to women only and early retirement for women, encourage discrimination in hiring.

The law does not address equality in hiring practices (there are no legal penalties for discriminatory hiring practices), and advertisements for jobs frequently indicate a gender preference. Women remain banned from working in 90 occupations in 18 fields of industry, health care, forestry, agriculture, and transportation, but unions support the desire of women to gain entry into these occupations. The rise in unemployment and other social changes accompanying economic reforms and restructuring have hit women harder than men. Women accounted for 55.2 percent of all those unemployed as of July.

The NGO Report as well as a recent feature series in the press provide information on the ill-treatment of women in maternity clinics, where most give birth. The reports state that women are subject to humiliation, deprivation of their identity, and undergo unnecessary discomfort during labor.

The 1962 Law on Citizenship discriminates against women by not granting them the same right as men to transmit citizenship to their foreign-born spouses.

Children

The interim Constitution extends some state protection to the family and children. Specifically, it states that children born in and out of wedlock shall be treated equally. It also charges the State with ensuring that alimony rights and obligations are implemented and tasks the government with "devoting special attention to the education of youth...."

However, the realities of economic and social life make it difficult for the Government to implement these mandates. There is an increasing incidence of prostitution among 12- and 13-year-olds, and unemployment, alcoholism, and housing shortages have affected the quality of life of children. Moreover, there are no laws explicitly addressing violence toward children or corporal punishment. Abuse is rarely reported, and convictions for child abuse are even rarer. Parents have the right to make all decisions concerning their children's medical treatment and education.

There is unequal treatment of young men and women in terms of the age of majority. Men and women reach majority at the age of 18 under the Civil Code. However, a young woman can reach majority at the age of 16 if she has entered into marriage with the consent of her parents and the guardianship court. In addition, men are not permitted to marry without parental consent until the age of 21, whereas women may do so at the age of 18. (The lawmakers' rationale for this difference in treatment is the assumption that it is better that men entering compulsory military service not be encumbered with families.)

Education is compulsory until the age of 16, although the Government has proposed raising the age to 18. There are no procedures in schools to protect children from abuse by teachers; in fact, the teachers' work code guarantees legal immunity from prosecution for the use of corporal punishment in classrooms.

People with Disabilities

There are approximately 4.5 million disabled persons in the population, and it is predicted that the number will reach 6 million by the year 2010. The Central Bureau of Statistics reports that 17 percent of those disabled who can work are unemployed. Disabled persons groups claim that the percentage is much higher.

In 1991 the Government passed a number of laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities. Implementation, however, falls short of rights set forth in the legislation. Public buildings and transportation are generally not accessible to people with disabilities; the law provides only that such buildings "should be accesible." The law created a state fund for the rehabilitation of the disabled which derives its assets from a tax on employers of over 50 persons, unless 6 percent of the employer's work force are disabled persons. While the fund has adequate resources, it has been fraught with difficulties, including frequent changes in leadership. Over the last 4 years, the fund has gone through six chairpersons, each of whom had only worked for 6 months. Recent newspaper reports state that the fund has 4,000 applications for financial assistance pending. In addition, pursuant to the 1991 law, the fund cannot be used to assist disabled children, that is, persons under 16 years of age.

Religious Minorities

Current law places the Protestant churches on the same legal footing as Catholic and Orthodox churches. Protestants now have the same ability to claim restitution of property lost during the Communist era and have the same tax reduction as that granted to the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. This law covers only church property seized by the People's Republic of Poland and consequently does not address either the issue of private property or Jewish religious property seized during World War II.

The Government's resolve to denounce anti-Semitism came into question when a well-known church figure and then President Walesa's personal priest, Father Henryk Jankowski, made overtly anti-Semitic remarks in a public sermon at which Walesa was present. Walesa did not condemn nor distance himself from those remarks until 10 days after the speech, following international pressure. His lateness in responding plus his neglect of the Council on Polish-Jewish Relations raised questions about the Government's seriousness in combating anti-Semitism. In Krakow local authorities refused to permit construction of a park to honor the memory of Poland's preWar Jewish community.

There were also some anti-Semitic attacks in connection with the electoral campaign. One fringe presidential candidate, Stanislaw Tyminski, used the campaign slogan "Poland for Poles." While stating that he did not want to discriminate, he claimed that a large portion of a major political party had many Jews within its membership, thereby insinuating that the party was dominated by "outside influences." Presidential candidate Leszek Bubel, who received only 0.4 percent of the vote, published two anti-Semitic pamphlets during the campaign (see Section 2.a.) and broadcast an anti-Semitic television campaign ad.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law provides for the educational rights of ethnic minorities, including the right to be taught in their own language.

The Romani community, numbering around 30,000, faced disproportionately high unemployment and was more negatively affected by the current economic changes and restructuring than were ethnic Poles, according to its leaders. While the national Government does not overtly discriminate against Roma, some local officials sometimes do discriminate by not providing services in a timely manner or at all. According to the national Roma community chairman, the Government did not adequately take into account his organization's proposals in plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. In a recent poll, over 60 percent of Poles viewed the Roma negatively.

In June around 30 skinheads attempted to disrupt the Ukrainian cultural festival in Przemysl by starting brawls but were prevented from doing so by the local police. On July 2, police arrested 4 persons suspected of throwing Molotov cocktails into a building where 120 participants of the Ukrainian cultural festival were staying. These incidents and other hate attacks against Ukrainians were spurred by an agreement to allow the building of a Ukrainian monument in Przemysl.

There were several racially motivated incidents including death threats and attacks on African-American basketball players working on contract in Poland. In January two black Americans were assaulted in a discotheque in what they described as a racially motivated attack. On February 13, approximately 8 skinheads in the city of Stargard Szczecinski assaulted Martin Eggleston, an African-American player, and his 13 year old daughter. He was threatened with a knife and then sprayed with Mace. His daughter was not injured. Approximately 50 bystanders took no action. Four men accused of taking part in the attack have been convicted: one man received a 9-month prison sentence, and three others received 6-month prison sentences suspended for 3 years, and a fine equivalent to $208.

Also in February, two other African-American basketball players complained of anonymous death threats made to them in their homes. The press and the Polish team manager initially treated the players' complaints as lacking in credibility but later investigated the incident to the satisfaction of the complainants.

In April a group of skinheads attacked an African-American woman working in Gdansk. Police arrested several suspects in this case but were unable to prosecute since the victim would not file a complaint and left the country the following day. One month earlier, an African-American man was harassed in Gdansk and also decided not to file a complaint.

According to a study conducted by the Warsaw University Sociology Institute, 25 percent of visitors to Poland of African, Asian, or Arab descent experienced some type of aggression during their stay, and 60 percent experienced verbal abuse based on their skin color.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides that all civilian workers, including military employees, police, and frontier guards, have the right to establish and join trade unions of their own choosing, the right to join labor federations and confederations, and the right to affiliate with international labor organizations. Independent labor leaders reported that these rights were largely observed in practice.

The law sets minimum size requirements for establishing a trade union: 10 persons may form a local union, and 30 may establish a national union. Unions, including interbranch national unions and national interbranch federations, must be registered with the courts. A court decision refusing registration may be appealed to an appeals court. As of September, 288 national unions were registered. No precise data exist on work force unionization, but some estimates put membership at some 40 percent of state sector employees, with the figure at about 5 percent in the private sector.

The Independent Self-Governing Trade Union (NSZZ) Solidarity is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labor. Solidarity's verified, dues-paying membership fell further in 1995 to about 1.4 million. Spinoffs from mainstream Solidarity include the two rival factions, "Solidarity '80" and "August '80," and the Christian Trade Union Solidarity (Popieluszko). There are no reliable estimates of their membership. The other principal national unions are the All-Poland Trade Union Alliance (OPZZ), the Communist-inspired confederation established in 1984 as the sole legal alternative to the then-repressed NSZZ Solidarity, and its teachers' affiliate (ZNP). The OPZZ claims a membership of 4.5 million, but numerous recent polls suggest that its regular, dues-paying membership may be less than Solidarity's. The 1994 collective bargaining law did not require union membership figures to be verified or union finances to be based on dues-paying members to be considered a "representative" negotiating partner. As a result, Solidarity refused to participate in some multilateral negotiations with the Government and other social partners on the grounds that OPZZ and other union membership figures were unproven.

There was no resolution in 1995 of the longstanding dispute over Solidarity assets seized during the martial law period and still administered by the OPZZ. The ICFTU and the European

Trade Union Confederation continued to decline to cooperate with the OPZZ, largely because of the outstanding assets issue.

Most trade unions operate independently of the Government, and some are particularly active in politics. According to OPZZ chair Ewa Spychalska, more than two-thirds of the 178 governing Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) Deputies are OPZZ members. Of these, the OPZZ formally sponsored 63 as "trade union deputies" during the 1993 elections. Solidarity, other small Solidarity-origin unions, and some OPZZ regional leaders charge that the OPZZ national leadership is not independent because the SLD enforces party discipline on important votes in the Sejm. Solidarity has an 11-member caucus in the Senate, while the trade union wing of the Confederation of Independent Poland, Kontra, has 1 Deputy in the Sejm.

Unions have the right to strike except in "essential services." According to the unions, the 1991 Act on Collective Dispute Resolution prescribes an overly lengthy process before a strike may be called. According to employers, the law is too lenient by allowing only one quarter of the work force to vote to call a strike. Arbitration is not obligatory and depends on the will of disputing parties. Employers and union leaders agree that as many as 60 to 90 percent of strikes may be technically "illegal" because the sides to a dispute do not complete each step required by law. There are no apparent remedies to this phenomenon because labor courts act slowly on deciding the legality of strikes while sanctions against unions for calling illegal strikes, or against employers for provoking them, are minimal. Laws prohibiting retribution against strikers are not consistently enforced, and fines imposed as punishment are so minimal that they are ineffective sanctions to illegal activity. If a strike is organized in accordance with the law, workers retain their right to social insurance but not pay. If a labor court finds a strike "contrary to provisions of the law," workers may lose social benefits, and organizers are liable for damages and may face civil charges and fines.

The Government continued work on its "Strategy for Poland," to adapt existing but outdated laws governing labor activity to the market economy, to establish a comprehensive legal framework governing all aspects of work, and to bring labor law into line with European Union practices. In December the Senate amended the lower house's bill on the new labor code, which is expected to become law in early 1996 after further consideration in the Sejm. Legislative work continued on the bill on collective dispute resolution, one of the central elements of the Government's strategy to modernize labor relations. Meanwhile, legal ambiguities remain.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The 1991 laws on trade unions and resolution of collective disputes generally create a favorable environment to conduct trade union activity.

Labor leaders, however, reported numerous cases of employer discrimination against workers seeking to organize or join unions in the growing private sector. Union leaders also say that the 1991 laws lack specific provisions to ensure that a union has continued rights of representation when a state firm undergoes privatization, commercialization, bankruptcy, or sale, which contributed to the very low unionization rate in the private sector. The law provides for parties to take disputes over implementation of existing laws first to the Labor Court, then to the Prosecutor General, and finally to the Supreme Court, if unresolved at lower levels. In recent years, Solidarity has taken several thousand such cases to the Labor Court, several hundred to the Prosecutor General, and in 1994 about 60 to the Supreme Court for resolution. In many of these cases, the courts ordered employers to correct practices or reinstate dismissed workers. In others, the courts ordered unions to reimburse employers for strikes determined to be "illegal." Penalties, however, are minimal and are not an effective deterrent.

The Government sought to make enterprise-level collective bargaining over wages and working conditions a key element of the new labor relations system. Negotiations between unions, management, and workers councils are becoming increasingly common in the state manufacturing sector, but a majority of enterprises are still unprepared to conclude agreements independently of central government involvement. Solidarity reported that collective agreements governed as few as 10 percent of state sector firms, primarily in the heavy industrial sector. Many enterprises operated on the basis of agreements renewed from previous years.

Many disputes arose during collective bargaining negotiations because of the weakness of the employer side of the labor/management/government triangle. State sector employers, still subordinate to Warsaw branch ministries, were unable to negotiate directly and independently with organized labor, while the Government repeatedly stated its intention not to be drawn into labor disputes.

Since its formation in early 1994, the Tripartite Commission (labor, management, and government) has increasingly determined wage and benefit levels in the so-called budget sector (public employees). A Solidarity-organized protest campaign in early 1995 was resolved at the Tripartite Commission, which became the principal consultative/negotiating body for the public budget sector.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Poland has ratified ILO Conventions 29 and 105 on forced labor. Compulsory labor does not exist, except for prisoners convicted of criminal offenses, and is otherwise prohibited by law. There were no reports of coerced or bonded labor.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law contains strict legal prescriptions about the conditions in which children may work. The Labor Code forbids the employment of persons under the age of 15. Those between ages 15 and 18 may be employed only if they have completed primary school and if the proposed employment constitutes vocational training and is not harmful to their health. The age floor rises to 18 if a particular job might pose a health danger. Children are required to attend school until age 15.

Despite these prescriptions, the State Labor Inspectorate reported in 1994 that increasing numbers of children now work and that many employers violated labor rules in employing them (underpayment, late payment, etc.). Inspectors found violations on stud horse farms, in restaurants, and, in isolated instances, in factories in the private sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

A national minimum wage is negotiated every 3 months by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, the trade unions, and employers. The minimum monthly wage for employees in state-owned enterprises rose to roughly $120 (295 new zloty). This was insufficient to provide a worker or family with a decent standard of living. A large percentage of construction workers and seasonal agricultural laborers from the former Soviet Union earn less than the minimum. The large size of the gray economy, along with insufficient numbers of state labor inspectors, make enforcement of the minimum wage very difficult.

There is a standard legal workweek of 42 hours which allows 6- or 7-hour days, including at least one 24-hour rest period. The law requires overtime payment for hours in excess of the standard workweek. The Labor Code defines minimum conditions for the protection of workers' health and safety. Prescriptions are strict and extensive, and trade unions have the right to stop production or extract a worker from dangerous working conditions without jeopardy to continued employment. Enforcement, however, is a major problem because the State Labor Inspectorate is unable to monitor the state sector sufficiently, or the private sector, where a growing percentage of accidents take place. In addition, there is a lack of clarity concerning which government or legislative body has responsibility for enforcing the law.

Of the 102,309 work-related accidents reported in 1994, 636 involved deaths, slightly fewer than in 1993. This represents 9 accidents per 1000 workers, proportionally similar to 1993. The Government in September noted that working conditions were poor and sanctions minimal. Some Sejm Deputies considered them "highly unsatisfactory." Standards for exposure to chemicals, dust, and noise are routinely exceeded, which more than doubled the incidence of work-related sicknesses in 1993 compared to 1971.

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