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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Poland

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Poland, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
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' hostility against trade unions is on the rise. At least 20 men and women were dismissed for their trade union activities, although the unions were able to negotiate re-engagement for four of them. A number of workers enjoy limited trade union rights, and the right to strike is hampered by excessive restrictions.

Trade union rights in law

The law guarantees basic trade union rights, but a number of restrictions apply. While all workers, with the exception of the self-employed, have the right to form and join the trade union of their choice, a single trade union system applies to a number of employees including policemen and fire-fighters. Protection against anti-union dismissals is limited, as the number of union officials awarded protection is dependent on the size of the union.

Furthermore, while the right to collective bargaining is guaranteed in the Constitution, a number of workers in the civil service including key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges and prosecutors, do not enjoy that right.

The right to strike is seen as an element of collective disputes, can in general only be called if the parties do not reach an agreement through negotiations, and must be preceded by conciliation or mediation. Also, to call a strike, a majority of all employees must vote in favour of the strike, which is excessive. The list of "essential services" exceeds the ILO definition, and includes workers in the state administration and local government.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Numerous strikes and protests took place during the year, in reaction to the economic crisis and the rapid loss of jobs. The social partners' consensus on anti-crisis measures was modified by the government, much to the trade unions' disappointment. More and more workers went for months without being paid, and police officers did not receive the social benefits that comprise a significant portion of their take-home pay. In December, the death of two workers at the construction site of the National Stadium in Warsaw exposed a gross negligence of basic safety standards and drew attention to more general concerns about health and safety at work.

Reinstatement difficult after anti-union dismissals: Forming a trade union, asking for collective bargaining or fighting for workers' rights is frequently followed by a summary dismissal of the union's leaders. The victims can ask for reinstatement, but court proceedings can take up to two years. Moreover, the courts are increasingly awarding just three months' salary as compensation in lieu of reinstatement, regardless of how long the activist has been out of work. Employers also claim that workers cannot be reinstated as the victim and the management would not be able to co-operate, and more and more judges are convinced that employers should not be forced to take back unfairly dismissed unionists as this could create a "conflict".

Organising a strike complicated: Employers are taking advantage of legal subtleties to curb workers' right to strike. Failure to comply with all the minute requirements often leads to a strike being declared illegal, sometimes with harsh consequences. For example, on 14 December the court ordered the members of the All-Poland Union of Nurses and Midwives at the Barlicki Hospital in Lodz to pay the hospital between 1,500 and 4,000 PLZ (more than 900 euros) in damages for participating in a strike in 2008. The nurses had announced that the strike would last for four days, but the prosecutor's office used a different method for counting the days, and declared that the strike had gone over its limit.

Update on Alima Gerber (Nestle): Although he won his court case on 29 April, Jacek Kotula, an unfairly dismissed NSZZ Solidarnosc shop steward (see the 2009 edition of the Survey), was not reinstated. He was merely awarded compensation equivalent to three months of his salary.

International campaign to protect dismissed trade unionists at LOT Polish Airlines: In July, Ewira Niemiec, president of the Cabin Crew Trade Union, and Grzegorz Kossowski, president of the LOT Polish Airlines Employees' Union, were illegally sacked during collective bargaining negotiations with LOT Polish Airlines. LOT had previously dismissed workers who won legal cases against the company, and had threatened unions that it would file for bankruptcy. The employer also announced plans to replace the collective bargaining agreement with a new contract, which would result in redundancies and wage cuts. The International Transport Federation (ITF), together with the European Transport Federation (ETF) launched an international solidarity campaign. On 9 October, an agreement package was finally settled including the reinstatement of Niemiec and Kossowski.

Unionists pressured to resign, leader dismissed: The management of the Energy Transport Company in Radom has been pressuring trade unionists to relinquish their union membership for several years. Kazimierz Staszewski, the company union leader, became the target of a number of discriminatory actions and was eventually dismissed in August. On 2 October, over 2,000 workers gathered in front of the company gates in support of Staszewski.

Activist reinstated after anti-union dismissal: Marcin Strozynski, a 22-year old man who organised a trade union in the municipally-owned company Grodziskie Przedsiebiorstwo Komunalne Sp. z o.o. was dismissed in August. On 31 August members of NSZZ-Solidarnosc affiliated trade unions in the Wielkopolska Region arranged a rally at the gates of the Town Hall demanding Strozynski's reinstatement. Discussions between the management and the town mayor eventually led to Strozynski being allowed to return to work in November.

Regional Labour Office averse to organised labour: The Regional Labour Office in Lezajsk has been hostile towards the NSZZ Solidarnosc enterprise commission since its establishment in 2008. When the commission explained its problems at a meeting with the mayor of Lezajsk, the employer accused the commission members of disloyal behaviour and immediately dismissed the commission president, Monika Zdziech. The dismissal was in breach of legal procedures and a court case was filed, however Zdziech was later reinstated thanks to the mayor's intervention.

Unionist fired for speaking up about safety: In September, Hanna Zarzycka, a secretary for NSZZ Solidarnosc at Thomson Displays Polska in Piaseczno, was fired for "disrupting the work of her colleagues". Zarzycka had pointed out the violation of health and safety standards to the manager, after she had noticed that people were working outside in the heat, without water or hats.

Dismissals and intimidation at Officina Labor: Michal Szwarc, the leader of NSZZ Solidarnosc in the Rzgow branch of Officina Labor Sp. z o.o., was dismissed on 15 September, just one day after the management had been informed of the establishment of a company trade union. Seven more trade union officers were dismissed the next day. Szwarc, who was unofficially told that his dismissal was for "trade union conspiracy", also reported that he had been followed by a company car, and that his mother-in-law had been intimidated by the person driving that car. Trade unionists informed the prosecutor's office about the intimidation, and organised a solidarity rally. The dismissals were still pending review in the Labour Court at the end of the year.

Six union organisers sacked: On 30 September, six members of the NSZZ Solidarnosc temporary workers' enterprise commission at Interchem SA in Gdynia, including the commission president, were illegally dismissed. This happened just days after the union was formed and the composition of the commission was disclosed to the employer.

Successful union leader dismissed: Ewelina Zaremba, a 23-year old woman union leader at Sanden Manufacturing Poland Sp. z o.o. in Polkowice, who fought for months to get a wage rise for the staff, was summarily dismissed on 16 November. Right after the successful closure of a collective bargaining round, a document revealing the salary rates for selected jobs at the company was circulated. The management immediately accused Zaremba of disclosing confidential information and fired her. Trade unionists organised a rally in solidarity with their colleague. The case was pending in the Labour Court at the end of the year.

Anti-union harassment in Fassaden Glas Technik: In December, 40 employees of the Fassaden Glas Technik company, tired of constant wage arrears, formed a union. The company had not paid the workers regularly, only making symbolic payments from time to time, and most workers were owed 5 months' wages by the end of the year. Once the union was formed, the management started making threats to prevent the workers from suing the company for unpaid wages. The company boss, Friedrich Langenbach, complained that he could not sell the firm to a potential investor (who was supposed to "save it") because there was a union, and reportedly made lots of threats to the union.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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