U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 - Poland
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor|
|Publication Date||6 March 2007|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 - Poland , 6 March 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f056912.html [accessed 19 December 2014]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 6, 2007
The Republic of Poland is a multiparty democracy with a population of 38.5 million and a bicameral National Assembly consisting of an upper house, the Senate (Senat), and a lower house (Sejm). Executive power is shared among the prime minister, the Council of Ministers, the president, and the Sejm. In October 2005 Lech Kaczynski was elected president in a free and fair election. Legislative elections in October 2005 were also free and fair. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. Prison conditions remained poor with serious overcrowding; lengthy pretrial detention was occasionally a problem; and the judicial system continued to function poorly. Holdover Communist-era laws and regulations restricted freedom of speech and the press. Occasional anti-Semitic violence and harassment also were problems. There was discrimination against women in the labor market, sexual exploitation of children, trafficking in women and children, and societal discrimination and violence against ethnic minorities and homosexuals. Violations of workers' rights and antiunion discrimination also were problems.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On September 26 and 29, district court hearings took place in Katowice in connection with the 1981 Wujek Mine case; Czeslaw Kiszczak again pleaded not guilty to charges of ordering militia (ZOMO) to open fire on striking miners. The trial was set to continue in 2007. In September 2005 an appeals court ruled that the district court could hear the communist-era offense against Kiszczak. In 2004 Kiszczak received a two-year suspended sentence, but a Warsaw appeals court overturned the sentence and ruled that the district court must hear the case again. A separate trial of ZOMO officers who fired at striking miners in 1981 also continued. On November 30, the last of three hearings during the year took place at which a former ZOMO officer testified to hearing other militia officers boast of shooting at miners.
In the ongoing case from May 2004 in which police officers accidentally used live ammunition on a student crowd in Lodz, the family of a second shooting victim received an undisclosed amount of compensation. The family of the first victim received a payment in earlier years. There was no development in the investigation into the two police officers who allegedly distributed live ammunition.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions in practice.
In June a psychiatrist held in pretrial detention on corruption charges was reportedly denied medical treatment and pain relief for a jaw that was broken in an accident prior to his arrest. Authorities permitted the detainee to undergo an operation on his jaw approximately four weeks after his arrest.
In April the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) published its first report on torture in the country, which stated that statistics on the number of cases of physical or psychological abuse were not available because the criminal code does not specifically include torture and cruel or degrading treatment as a crime. The HFHR received several hundred complaints during the year about abusive treatment by police officers and conditions in prisons and mental institutions.
In 2005, 4,924 cases of police misconduct were reported. Of that number, 1,310 police officers were punished, and 78 others were expelled from the police force. Statistics of police misconduct during the year were not available at year's end. The law on police conduct outlines disciplinary actions against police misconduct, including warnings, demotion in rank, and expulsion.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prison and detention centers remained generally poor. Overcrowding and inadequate medical treatment were among the main problems.
According to the government, 89,546 persons (including 2,670 women) were held in prisons and detention facilities as of November 30. The government estimated prison and detention center capacity at 71,994, whereas the International Helsinki Foundation estimated total capacity at 68,729 as of November 2005.
Regulations provide for a minimum cell size of 16.5 square feet (1.5 square meters), while article 110 of the 1997 Executive Criminal Code provides for a minimum living area equivalent to 32.28 feet (three square meters). European Union standards designate minimum cell size at 64 square feet (six square meters). Due to the chronic overcrowding it was common for prisons to convert sports and recreation centers as well as chapels into cells.
On April 20, Janusz Kochanowski, the new human rights ombudsman, withdrew a December 2005 motion filed with the Constitutional Tribunal by his predecessor challenging a Ministry of Justice decree that allowed overcrowding in prisons and detention facilities (see section 4). Kochanowski argued that the concerns had been addressed adequately by the justice ministry; the Constitutional Tribunal subsequently dismissed the case. On December 5, a prisoner filed a new complaint with the Constitutional Tribunal citing the same justice ministry decree. At year's end, no ruling had been issued.
During the year the human rights ombudsman received 3,999 complaints regarding prison conditions. These cited poor medical care, abuse by prison authorities, poor conditions, and violations of correspondence and visitation rights.
Female prisoners were held in 28 facilities, eight of which were exclusively for women. Inmates were segregated by gender in the other 20 facilities.
Juveniles were generally separated from adults; however, under the law juveniles and adults could be housed together on occasion. Convicted minors (15- to 17-year-olds) were segregated from the adult prisoners. Juveniles (17- to 21-year-olds) accused of serious crimes were usually sent to pretrial detention. According to the central prison administration, there were two cases of an adult prisoner raping a minor and one additional case of a juvenile prisoner raping another juvenile. Criminal proceedings were initiated in all three cases.
Facilities that housed prisoners often held pretrial detainees in separate areas. Conditions for pretrial detainees were similar, but occasionally worse than those for convicted prisoners because of greater overcrowding and poorer facilities.
During the year the government permitted prison visits by independent human rights organizations, such as the International Helsinki Foundation. In accordance with standard procedures, the visits were private and regularly repeated.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The police force is a national law enforcement body with regional and municipal units overseen by the minister of interior and administration. Low-level corruption within the police force was considered widespread, and there was a public perception that police were unduly influenced by political pressures. Instances of corruption and serious criminal misconduct were investigated by the national police's office of internal affairs. The personnel division handled minor disciplinary offenses.
In August media reports exposed a major corruption case in the national police headquarters involving officers who were accused of malfeasance in a number of public tenders, including procurement of Romanian-made vehicles. By year's end the case had not reached court, but prosecutors had brought charges against 13 individuals: eight former police officers and five employees of the company that won the contract.
In November, following several anti-Semitic and anti-gay incidents in Warsaw and Wroclaw, a local non-governmental organization (NGO), Open Republic of Poland – Association against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia, appealed to the Ministry of Interior to provide clearer guidelines to police on how to respond to these types of complaints. The NGO accused police of being inattentive and helpless in reacting to societal abuse and harassment.
Arrest and Detention
By law, authorities must obtain a court warrant based on sufficient evidence prior to making an arrest, and authorities generally complied with the law in practice.
The law allows a 48-hour detention period before authorities must file charges, and an additional 24 hours for the court to decide whether to issue a pretrial detention order. Detainees must be informed of the charges promptly and have the right to counsel; the government provides free counsel to the indigent. Defendants and detainees have the right to consult an attorney at any time. There was a functioning bail system, and most detainees were released on bail.
Detainees may be held in pretrial detention for up to three months and may appeal the legality of their arrest. A court may extend pretrial detention every six to 12 months, but the total time in detention may not exceed two years. In certain complex cases, the court may petition the Supreme Court for an extension beyond two years. Court inefficiency occasionally delayed pretrial detention hearings.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice; however, the judiciary remained inefficient and lacked resources and public confidence.
There is a four-tiered court structure composed of regional, provincial, and appellate divisions and a Supreme Court. These tiers are subdivided into five domains of jurisdiction: military, civil, criminal, labor, and family. Regional courts try original cases. Provincial courts have a dual responsibility, handling appeals from regional courts and acting as the court of original jurisdiction for the most serious offenses. Appellate courts only hear appeals tried at the provincial level. The Supreme Court handles appeals of lower court decisions and ensures that the law is applied consistently throughout the country. There also is a Constitutional Tribunal that handles constitutional matters.
Supreme Court judges are nominated by the National Judicial Council and appointed for life terms by the president. They have immunity from prosecution but are subject to dismissal by a court decision. There are 90 Supreme Court judges in four chambers: civil, criminal, military, and labor-social security-public affairs. Judges are nominated by the National Council of the Judiciary and appointed by the president. The first president of the Supreme Court is appointed by the president of country for a six-year term from among candidates proposed by the General Assembly of the Judges of the Supreme Court.
The Constitutional Tribunal reviews the constitutionality of new laws, adjudicates disputes between government entities, and monitors the constitutionality of political parties' actions. There are 15 judges on the Constitutional Tribunal, nominated and approved by the Sejm.
The court system remained cumbersome, poorly administered, inadequately staffed, and underfunded. The courts had numerous inefficiencies, most notably that there were more criminal judges than prosecutors in many districts. Court decisions frequently were not implemented. A continuing backlog of cases and the high cost of legal action deterred many citizens from using the justice system.
Cases are tried in regional and provincial courts by a panel composed of a judge and two lay assessors. Defendants are allowed to consult an attorney; the government provides free counsel for indigent defendants as necessary. Defendants must be present during trial, may confront and question witnesses, have access to government-held evidence, and may present evidence and witnesses. Prosecutors can grant witnesses anonymity if they express fear of retribution from defendants. Trials are usually public; however, the courts reserve the right to close a trial in some circumstances, including divorce proceedings, cases involving state secrets, or cases with content that may offend public morality (see section 1.f.). However, the courts rarely invoked these rights.
After a court renders a verdict, a defendant has seven days to request a written statement of the judgment; courts must respond within seven days. A defendant has the right to appeal a verdict within 14 days of the response. A two-level appeal process is available in most civil and criminal matters.
The law provides for juries, usually composed of two or three individuals appointed by local officials.
Several individuals lodged complaints or filed cases against the government in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) because of trial delays and a perceived lack of due process. In 2005 the ECHR received 400 complaints about trial delays and 140 about failures of due process.
Military courts, which are supervised by the minister of justice and the prosecutor general, have jurisdiction over crimes committed by members of the military while on duty. Defendants enjoy the same rights as civilians. Civilian employees of the Ministry of Defense are not tried by the military courts.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The judiciary system is generally independent and impartial in civil cases. The constitution and law guarantee the sovereignty of and public access to the judiciary. Additional guarantees are provided by the country's EU membership in the Council of Europe (European Court of Human Rights). However, according to officials at the respected local NGO Batory Foundation, several main problems exist. Implementation of court orders, particularly payment of damages, is slow, cumbersome, and ineffective. Court decisions are poorly enforced, recent changes to civil procedure place speed and efficiency over individual rights, and, in practice the right to legal counsel is limited.
The law provides for restitution of communal property seized during the communist and Nazi eras (see section 2.c.). A proposed law on private property claims introduced in the Sejm remained pending at year's end. The treasury estimated that there could be over 55,000 property claims valued together at $20 billion (60 billion zloty). Despite the absence of a comprehensive law on private property claims, some illegally nationalized private property was restored, and approximately $183 million (550 million zloty) was paid out in compensation for 500 property claims provided over the previous 10 years.
Pursuant to a July 2005 law concerning properties that were lost because of border changes after World War II, the government is obligated to pay compensation in the amount of 20 percent of the property value. At year's end the state treasury had paid compensation to 75 claimants. According to the government, the law could affect approximately 80,000 claimants for property now located in Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. The law requires the treasury to create registers of all claimants who have the right to compensation. The deadline for submitting applications for claims is December 31, 2008.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions; however, the government did not always respect these prohibitions in practice.
The law allows electronic surveillance for crime prevention and investigations. There was no independent judicial review of surveillance activities, nor was there any control over the use of information obtained by monitoring private communications. A number of government agencies had access to wiretap information.
Under the 1997 "lustration" law designed to expose officials who collaborated with the communist-era secret police, persons who lie about their past may be prohibited from holding public office for 10 years. In July the president signed a new lustration law that requires all politicians, civil servants and others in positions of public trust, including school principals and journalists, to obtain a clearance from the Institute for National Remembrance (IPN). The files of people reviewed by the IPN will be made available on the Internet. The new lustration process also will disclose the names of people who met with the secret police on an "institutional" or "operational" basis, but were not necessarily informants or collaborators. As the law stands now, 500,000 to 1.5 million people could come under scrutiny. However, many in government and human rights NGOs were concerned that the new law could be misused for political reasons.
Many lustration cases remained closed to the public because they involved classified documents. Critics continued to voice concern that procedures for vetting persons for government positions were unfair because secret police records were subject to loss or tampering.
In June Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Zita Gilowska lost her job when allegations were made that she collaborated with the communist-era security services. On September 22, Gilowska cleared her name through a lustration process and was restored to her position.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, holdover communist-era laws and regulations restricted these freedoms in practice. For example, libel and some forms of insults are criminal offenses; a person who insults or humiliates a constitutional institution is subject to a fine or imprisonment of up to two years; insulting a public official is subject to a fine or imprisonment of up to one year; and offending the object or spirit of a place of worship in public is punishable by a fine or a two-year prison term.
On November 15 a 31 year-old homeless man pled guilty in court to charges of having insulted President Lech Kaczynski during a drunken outburst while under police questioning in January 2005. If convicted, the man could be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison. At year's end the court had not issued a sentence.
Independent media expressed a wide variety of views and opinions without restriction. Private television, satellite, and cable subscription services were available across most of the country. Private television broadcasters operated on frequencies selected by the ministry of communications and auctioned by KRRiTV, the national radio and television broadcasting council. The four channels of public Polish Television (TVP) were the most widely viewed, earning between 40 and 45 percent combined market share. The public channels faced strong competition from the private TVN and Polsat networks, which combined for around 35 percent of the market. Cable television and various satellite services carried the main national channels, as well as local, regional, and foreign channels.
The five-member KRRiTV, which is responsible for protecting freedom of speech, has broad power to monitor and regulate programming, allocate broadcasting frequencies and licenses, and apportion subscription revenues to public media. While council members are required to suspend their membership in political parties or public associations, critics asserted that during the year the council became more politicized and less professional with the nomination of new members closely affiliated with the government's ruling coalition.
On March 23, the Constitutional Tribunal temporarily suspended the KRRiTV's operations by ruling that four articles of a new media law that increased the council's authority were unconstitutional. The tribunal found that the council could not oversee ethical questions and had no right of censorship and that the country's president could not appoint the KRRiTV chairman. The tribunal struck down another provision of the media law that granted special privileges to Catholic Church broadcast media.
The Catholic nationalist radio station Radio Maryja is designated a "public broadcaster" and exempted from paying regular licensing fees up to $457,000 (1,370,040 zloty). The station, which features conservative Catholic call-in shows, has historically included some anti-Semitic statements. It is privately owned by the Catholic Church, and the Warsaw-based Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer holds the broadcast license (see section 2.c.).
The law prohibits the media from promoting activities that are illegal or against government policy, morality, or the common good and requires that all broadcasts "respect the religious feelings of the audiences and, in particular, respect the Christian system of values." The government enforced this provision in practice, levying fines during the year on programs deemed offensive.
On March 22, KRRiTV fined POLSAT, the country's second largest private television channel, $165,000 (500,000 zloty) for broadcasting a satirical show that mimicked the voice of a disabled person who leads prayers on Catholic Radio Maryja. The KRRiTV chairman stated that the council levied the fine because the program failed to respect the religious beliefs of the public and particularly the "Christian system of values."
On May 26, the regional court in Warsaw ruled in a closed session that Tomasz Sakiewicz, editor-in-chief of Niezalezna Gazeta Polska, could not print information about Boguslaw Koczur, who allegedly received money taken illegally by former president Alexander Kwasniewski from the Committee on Young Adults. The Press Freedom Monitoring Center called the ruling a form of censorship.
In July journalist Jerzy Urban filed a case with the ECHR arguing that a $6,700 (20,000 zloty) fine levied by a Warsaw appeals court for alleged slander was a violation of his right to free speech. The case stemmed from an article Urban published in 2002 in the news weekly Nie that criticized the pope.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chatrooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by electronic mail.
According to media reports, 45 percent of households in country owned a personal computer, and 36 percent had access to the Internet.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were few government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
In February the head of the public University of Marie Curie-Sklodowska (UMCS) in Lublin banned the sale of T-shirts with slogans designed to encourage discussion about the state of freedom of expression in the country. The slogans included statements such as "I am Jewish," "I'm Arab," "I had an abortion," and "I did not cry when the pope died." The ban prompted the local chapter of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights to cancel a series of human rights films at the university that were connected to the T-shirt sales.
The appeal of an artist convicted of offending religious beliefs in 2004 by a Gdansk court remained pending at year's end. Dorota Nieznalska was sentenced to six months "restricted freedom" and unpaid community service for placing a photograph of male genitals on a Christian cross. The appeals court met 17 times during the year but reached no decision during the year.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right in practice. Permits were not necessary for public meetings but were required for public demonstrations. Authorities generally issued permits for public gatherings.
In contrast with the previous year, Warsaw authorities granted a permit to a consortium of gay rights advocates to organize an Equality Parade on June 10 as well as to a right-wing, antigay group to protest the event. Police provided adequate protection for the approximately 5,000-6,000 local and international activists who took part in the parade, although some counterprotestors threw eggs and rocks at the marchers (see section 5).
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association; however, there were restrictions on this right in practice. Private associations are required to register with the local district court to obtain government approval to organize, and organizations must sign a declaration saying that they will abide by the law. In practice the procedure was complicated and subject to the arbitrary discretion of a judge. There were no reports that private associations were routinely denied registration, or that any registration was denied for political reasons.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
The government at all levels sought to protect this right in full and did not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The Criminal Code stipulates that offending religious sentiment through public speech is punishable by a fine or a prison term of up to three-years. The Roman Catholic Church was the dominant religious group in the country, and approximately 96 percent of the population was Roman Catholic.
There are 15 religious groups whose relationship with the state is governed by laws that outline the internal structure of the groups, their activities, and procedures for property restitution. There are 146 other registered religious groups that do not have a statutorily defined relationship with the state. All registered religious groups, including the original 15, enjoy equal protection under the law.
Religious education classes are taught in public schools at public expense. Parents could request instruction in any registered religion, including Protestant and Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Children may choose between instruction in religion and ethics, and may be exempted from religious instruction. Catholic Church representatives are included on a commission that determined whether books were acceptable for school use.
The government continued to work with local and international religious groups to address property claims and other sensitive issues stemming from Nazi- and communist-era confiscations and persecutions. There are five different commissions supervised by the Ministry of Interior that oversee religious property claims; one each for the Catholic Church, Jewish Community, Lutheran Church, Orthodox Church, and other denominations. Of approximately 10,000 communal property claims filed for restitution of religious property, more than 5,000 have been resolved and more than 1,200 properties had been returned by year's end.
By year's end, approximately 2,801 of the 3,063 claims filed by the Catholic Church had been concluded, with 1,144 claims settled by agreement between the church and the party in possession of the property (usually the national or a local government); 932 properties returned through decision of the commission on property restitution; and 632 claims rejected by the Ministry of Interior commission.
There were 5,544 outstanding property claims by the local Jewish community. At year's end the commission had concluded 1,143 cases, of which 316 were settled amicably, and 336 properties were restored. The time period for filing claims under a 1997 law ended in 2002.
The Lutheran Church had filed claims for 1,200 properties. Of that number, 842 cases were concluded by year's end; 228 were resolved amicably. The deadline for filing these claims was 1996. The Orthodox Church had filed 486 claims with the commission, of which 215 were closed in full or in part.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
During the year there were reports of several serious anti-Semitic incidents and occasional desecrations of Jewish cemeteries by skinheads and other groups. The Jewish community was estimated at 20,000 to 30,000, including 2,500 registered members listed in the country's statistical yearbook. The government publicly criticized anti-Semitic acts.
The country has made considerable progress in relations with its Jewish communities; however, its politics remained vulnerable to charges of extremism, intolerance, and anti-Semitism. During the year some Jewish leaders expressed concern over reduction of government funding for Holocaust education and the inclusion of two small political parties in the governing coalition, some of whose members have made anti-Semitic statements.
In April and May there were two separate attacks on prominent rabbis in Warsaw. In the first incident, an unidentified assailant accosted Rabbi Shalom Stambler, head of the country's Chabad-Lubavitch community, in the foyer of his office building. The person shoved the rabbi and shouted anti-Semitic slurs in view of security guards, who did not intervene.
On May 16, an antifascist activist was stabbed by skinheads in Warsaw after being targeted by a neo-Nazi website. On May 27, the country's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, was attacked on a downtown Warsaw street. The assailant, who was apprehended in August, pushed the rabbi to the ground, sprayed him with pepper spray, and shouted an anti-Semitic slogan. A court sentenced the assailant to two years in prison and a fine of $1,300 (4,000 zloty). However, the court suspended the sentence.
Following these two incidents police created a special unit to combat neofascist activities. In July police arrested the alleged content provider of Red Watch, the website that listed the name and whereabouts of the man who was stabbed in Warsaw, and which also promoted hatred of Jews and homosexuals (see section 5).
On March 27, commentator Stanislaw Michalkiewicz, speaking on Catholic Radio Maryja, made anti-Semitic remarks when he claimed "Jews are trying to force a ransom from our government which they covertly call restitution". Michalkiewicz also said the country was being "humiliated" by Jews "at the site of the former death camp Auschwitz". He was charged with insulting the Jewish community and for denying Nazi war crimes. On August 28, however, prosecutors dropped the charges. Michalkiewicz left Radio Maryja, which has a history of broadcasting anti-Semitic statements, to work for a public radio network, Polskie Radio.
On December 7, a court in Bialystok ordered Leszek Bubel, a self-proclaimed anti-Semite and leader of the Polish National Party, to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The case stemmed from charges brought by the local prosecutor in August 2005 for an article Bubel published, "The Polish-Jewish War Over Crosses," for which the court sentenced Bubel to six months in prison and a fine of $825 (2,500 zloty) for inciting hostility and slandering Jews.
On November 30, Maciej Giertych, who represents the extreme-right League of Polish Families in the European parliament, dismissed his assistant Leokadia Wiacek after a newspaper revealed a video in which the assistant participated in a 2004 neo-Nazi event, burned a swastika, chanted "Sieg Heil," and gave the Nazi salute.
In the first case of its kind, on November 16 Open Republic, an association of well-known Polish intellectuals, filed a civil suit against the aforementioned chairman of the Polish National Party Leszek Bubel, claiming that his anti-Semitic comments and publications offended their dignity both as Poles and as human beings. A letter of support signed by 700 other individuals accompanied the legal charges; the suit was pending at year's end.
On September 21, a temporary installation opened in Warsaw to mark the beginning of construction of a museum of the history of the country's Jews. The opening followed the conclusion in January 2005 of lengthy negotiations between the ministry of culture, Warsaw city officials, and the Jewish Historical Institute (ZIH) to build the museum.
During the year the government provided grants to a number of organizations involved in tolerance education, including ZIH, which maintained an archive of Jewish-related documents, books, journals, and artifacts. The government also provided grants to ZIH to produce educational materials on Jewish culture, the Holocaust, and religious tolerance. One NGO involved in Holocaust education claimed that their funding through the Ministry of Education was cut abruptly because it was no longer deemed a priority. Government officials denied any connection and claimed that there was no effort to restrict Holocaust education funding.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2006 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice. The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not employ it.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. The government granted refugee status or asylum.
The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol and provided it to 2,049 persons during the year. The government granted refugee status to 423 persons during the year.
The majority of refugees and asylum seekers arrived from Russia's Chechnya region; other major sources of asylum seekers were Ukraine, Belarus, Pakistan, Georgia and India.
Persons granted asylum or refugee status have the right to work, to receive social assistance and education, and to have access to a state integration program for 12 months. The program provides participants with contacts in the local community, assistance with accommodations, and help with job searches. Refugees receive monetary assistance for living expenses and language training and are registered in the national health care system. Despite this program, many new immigrants had difficulty finding work commensurate with their skills due to the overall high rate of unemployment. Persons with temporary status also have the right to work and to social assistance but cannot participate in the government's integration program.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. The government allowed UNHCR and NGOs to monitor refugee detention centers.
Unlike in the previous year, there were few reports of problems in refugee detention centers. The government operated 17 refugee reception centers in the Warsaw, Bialystok, and Lublin areas with a capacity of 3,600 persons. The main difficulties in the centers involved providing access to education for children, legal assistance, and medical treatment. Press reports in April stated that half of school-aged children in refugee camps were not attending school.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Legislative and presidential elections that took place in September and October 2005, respectively, were regarded as free and fair. Multiple candidates from various political parties freely declared their candidacy to stand for election and had full access to the media. There were 92 women in the 460-seat Sejm and 12 women in the 100-seat upper house. There were three women in the 22-member Council of Ministers.
There were two members of minorities in the Sejm (both representing the German minority in Silesia) and no minorities in the upper house. There were no minorities in the cabinet. The law exempts ethnic minority parties from the requirement that they win 5 percent of the vote nationwide to qualify for seats in individual districts.
Government Corruption and Transparency
There was a widespread public perception of corruption throughout the government. Citizens continued to believe that political parties and members of the legislative branch, the health care system, and the judiciary were the most corrupt. During the year the country received a score of 3.7 on Transparency International's 10-point composite index of the degree to which corruption was perceived to exist among a country's politicians and public officials, indicating a perception that the country had a serious corruption problem. In March a poll conducted by the Center for Public Opinion research found that 95 percent of citizens believed corruption occurred often or very often.
On May 16, the National Police Central Bureau of Investigations arrested three senior officials from the Ministry of Finance for corruption and accepting bribes. According to the prosecutor, the officials canceled fiscal liabilities and issued tax exemptions over a period of 10 years in exchange for bribes from organized criminals and businessmen. The investigation was ongoing at year's end and had not yet come to court.
On December 14 police arrested four former deputy mayors of Krakow for their involvement in a questionable land deal seven years ago. The four served from 1998-2002 under mayor Andrzej Golas. The case remained pending at year's end.
On June 24, the Sejm created the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA), which has broad powers to audit the financial holdings of public officials and to fight corruption in public procurement. CBA head Mariusz Kaminski estimated the total value of corruption in the country at more than $6 billion (18 billion zloty) annually. The CBA is authorized to conduct searches and secret videotaping, wiretap telephone conversations, and make arrests.
On December 2, the CBA made its first arrests, detaining two men for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars in connection with the Kama Foods company, which went bankrupt in 2002. The CBA stated that one of the men, identified as "Wieslaw B.," was a former senior official with Kama Foods; the second, "Robert M.," had close connections with lawmakers.
There were no developments during the year in the 2004 "Orlengate" scandal that involving allegations that one of the country's wealthiest businessmen illegally attempted to negotiate the sale of the state-owned Rafineria Gdanska, the country's second-largest oil refinery. A legislative investigation into the scandal concluded in a September 2005 report that senior officials of the former government should be impeached before a state tribunal. The officials included President Kwasniewski, Prime Minister Leszek Miller, Treasury Ministers Wieslaw Kaczmarek and Emil Wasacz, Justice Ministers Barbara Piwnik and Andrzej Kalwas, and Sejm Speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz.
At year's end businessman Marek Dochnal remained in detention. In September 2004 Dochnal was arrested for allegedly bribing public officials for information concerning the privatization of a state-owned steel mill and the sale of shares of the country's largest oil company. His detention was extended several times and he was still in custody at year's end, although no official charges had been filed or trial date set.
The law provides for public access to government information; in practice the government provided access to citizens and noncitizens, including foreign media. Government refusals of requests for information must be based on exceptions provided in the law related to government secrets, personal privacy restrictions, and propriety business data. Refusals may be appealed.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.
As provided for in the constitution, the country's human rights ombudsman presents an annual activity report to the Sejm on the state of human rights and civic freedom in the country. In July the ombudsman reported that in 2005, 51,543 cases were filed with the office, a decrease of 7,607 from 2004. A new ombudsman, Janusz Kochanowski, was appointed and confirmed February 15 by the Sejm for a five-year term.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language or social status, and the government effectively enforced these provisions in practice; however, violence and societal discrimination against women and ethnic minorities persisted.
Domestic violence against women continued to be a serious problem. According to authorities, 36,534 people reported domestic violence during the year, an increase from 2005. Authorities prosecuted 20,809 cases of domestic violence, resulting in 8,938 convictions on domestic violence charges. The verdicts can be appealed and are not final. There are 4,066 persons incarcerated for crimes of domestic violence. Under the law a person convicted of domestic violence may be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison; however, most convictions resulted in suspended sentences. The law provides for restraining orders on spouses to protect women from abuse.
Women's organizations believed the number of women affected by domestic abuse was underreported. Violence against women remained hidden, particularly in small towns and villages. The NGO Women's Rights Center reported that police were occasionally reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence, particularly if the perpetrator was a member of the police or if victims were unwilling to cooperate.
The increase in reports of domestic violence was attributed to heightened police awareness, particularly in urban areas, as a result of media campaigns and NGO efforts. According to NGOs, courts often treated domestic violence as a minor crime, pronounced lenient verdicts, or dismissed cases.
NGOs operated centers to assist victims, provide preventive treatment and counseling to perpetrators, and train personnel working with domestic violence victims. The government provided victims and families with legal and psychological assistance. It also operated 11 shelters for pregnant women and mothers with small children, and 184 crisis centers. However, neither the shelters nor the crisis centers were devoted exclusively to battered women and victims of domestic violence.
Following the adoption of the July 2005 Law on Counteracting Domestic Violence, local governments established 32 specialized support centers for victims of domestic violence, and 960 perpetrators participated in "corrective-educational programs." During the government assigned nearly $3.2 million (9.4 million zloty) from the state budget for the implementation of the July 2005 law to cover the costs of the creation of the centers and for the programs for the perpetrators. The centers provided social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims of domestic violence.
Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to 12 years in prison. During the first 11 months of the year, 2,036 cases of rape were reported; of these, police determined that 1,739 were serious enough to open a formal investigation. However, women often were unwilling to report rape because of the associated social stigma. NGOs estimated that the actual number of rapes was 10 times higher than reported. Of the 1,739 rape cases that police investigated, 1,294 cases were forwarded to prosecutors for indictment.
Prostitution is legal, but pimping is not. Experts estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 women worked as prostitutes, many of them employed in massage parlors and escort services that functioned as brothels. Trafficking in women for the purposes of sexual exploitation was a problem (see section 5, Trafficking).
The law prohibits sexual harassment under gender discrimination provisions of the Labor Code and the Criminal Code. Under the criminal code persons convicted of sexual harassment involving sex may be sentenced to up to three years in prison. The Labor Code defines sexual harassment as a form of discrimination in the workplace as behavior that violates the dignity of an employee. The behavior includes physical, verbal, and non-verbal acts. Under the Labor Code, employees who have been discriminated against have the right to demand financial compensation from employers.
On December 4, the public prosecutor opened an investigation into charges that a member of the Sejm, Stanislaw Lyzwinski, provided jobs to women in exchange for sexual favors. The prosecutor's investigation was ongoing at year's end.
The NGO Center for Women's Rights believed that sexual harassment was a serious and underreported problem. Many victims either did not report abuse out of shame or fear of losing their job or withdrew their claims in the course of police investigations. Social awareness of the problem continued to increase, however, as more cases of sexual harassment were reported by the media. Through November police conducted 60 investigations into sexual harassment charges. This compared with 54 investigations in the previous year and 16 convictions.
The constitution provides for equal rights for men and women in family law, property law, and in the judicial system; however, in practice there were few laws to implement this provision. Women mainly held lower-level positions and frequently were paid less then men for equivalent work, were fired more readily, and were less likely to be promoted.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy is responsible for combating gender discrimination, incorporating gender equality into governmental policy, and monitoring implementation of government programs to promote gender equality. During the year the ministry implemented a number of projects to combat gender discrimination in the workplace, including an EU project that involves local NGOs to combat discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, religion, disability, age, and sexual orientation.
The government was committed to children's rights and welfare, and has a separate ombudsman for children's rights. Between April and December the ombudsman issued 37 statements and appeals to penalize promotion of pedophilia on the Internet, to improve access to public schools for disabled children, and to improve medical care for children with chronic diseases. Between January and November the ombudsman received 7,000 complaints. Of that number, 39 percent referred to contacts between parents and children, and 19 percent to protection against abuse, exploitation, and demoralization. Overall there was an increase of cases related to the physical, sexual and mental violence against children. On December 1, the ombudsman's office opened a 24-hour hot line for abused children.
Education is universal and mandatory until age 18, and public schools are free. According to the UN Children's Fund, 98 percent of school-age children attended school. Boys and girls had equal access to state medical care. Most students continued their studies to the postsecondary level.
Incidents of child abuse were rarely reported, and convictions also were rare. The law prohibits violence against children and provides for prison sentences ranging from three months to five years. Through November police reported 1,507 cases of the sexual exploitation of children, 516 cases of child pornography, and 81 cases of child abandonment.
Trafficking in children, primarily for the purpose of sexual exploitation, was a problem.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons; however, the country was a source, transit point, and destination for trafficked persons, primarily women and girls but also, to a lesser extent, boys. Internal trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation also occurred.
Persons were trafficked to and through the country, primarily from Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Belarus, and Moldova. A relatively high number were members of the Turkish minority in southern Bulgaria and from the Romani population in Romania. Destination countries included Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Australia. Some internal trafficking occurred; however, the extent of the problem was unclear because some victims may have chosen to engage in prostitution or other aspects of the sex trade. NGOs have noted a recent trend toward a higher percentage of victims being trafficked for labor in agriculture and other economic sectors.
Traffickers targeted young, unemployed, and poorly paid women, particularly those with weak family ties and support networks. Traffickers attracted victims through methods including fake employment offers, arranged marriages, fraud, and coercion. Some victims believed that they were accepting employment abroad as waitresses, maids, or nannies. Traffickers threatened victims with violence, and those who resisted or tried to flee were raped, beaten, or intentionally injured.
Authorities believed that large organized crime groups and individuals controlled the trafficking business, and that victims were frequently trafficked by nationals of their own country who collected a fee to allow passage into or through the country. According to arrest statistics, approximately 25 percent of traffickers were non-citizens. Bulgarian traffickers continued to account for a significant number of cases. Authorities also believed that employment and talent agencies were sometimes used as fronts for trafficking operations. As many as 90 percent of those trafficked in the country had false travel documents.
Several provisions of the criminal code specifically address trafficking and provide for prison sentences ranging from three to 15 years for sexual and nonsexual exploitation of persons. Pimping, recruiting, or luring persons into prostitution are also prohibited, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison. Individuals convicted of trafficking in children and luring women into prostitution abroad received the most severe sentences. Traffickers could also be prosecuted under laws criminalizing statutory rape, forced prostitution, and other acts.
According to the justice ministry, during the first six months of the year, 10 persons were convicted and sentenced for trafficking. In 2005, there were 37 convictions for trafficking in courts of first instance; all but nine of were overturned on appeal.
On May 11, local media reported that police broke up a major trafficking ring involving illegal prostitution in an undercover investigation coordinated with Austrian police. According to reports, organized criminal groups set up a recruiting scheme with three police officers and other individuals that trafficked up to 350 women to Austria. One retired officer and two police officers from Wroclaw were arrested, together with five other persons. The two officers used their office space and computers to recruit women through the Internet for prostitution and transported them across the Czech border. A second source of trafficked women in the operation involved a modeling agency in Wroclaw.
On July 18, in cooperation with Italian authorities, police broke up another trafficking ring that lured over 300 workers to southern Italy for agricultural work under conditions that amounted to forced labor. More than 100 citizens were freed in a joint operation with Italian police, and 25 persons arrested. The workers reportedly were forced to work up to 15 hours a day for $1.31 (one euro) per hour, slept on the ground, and were watched over by armed guards. Those arrested in the case were charged with trafficking, enslavement, and membership in a criminal group. At year's end prosecutors were preparing to bring the case to trial in mid-2007.
On October 30, police announced the arrest of a six-person gang for trafficking laborers to work in orange groves in the Valencia region in Spain. Approximately 30 persons were forced to work for no pay, lived in barracks, and given little to eat. Police learned of the work camp after several workers managed to escape and send an electronic text message to police. The investigation was ongoing at year's end.
The interior and justice ministries have primary responsibility for antitrafficking efforts; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinated trafficking programs with foreign governments and international organizations. Following establishment of a five-person Central Antitrafficking Unit in July, National Police created 17 regional teams to combat human trafficking and child pornography.
National police participated in several task forces with foreign authorities to share information, track the movement of traffickers and victims across borders, and help coordinate international operations to break up trafficking rings. The government increased training for police, prosecutors, and other front-line personnel involved in combating trafficking. It also increased cooperation with neighboring countries to combat traffickers and adopted a law that allows trafficking victims to remain legally in the country to assist in investigations and prosecutions.
There continued to be unconfirmed reports that low-ranking local police took bribes to ignore known trafficking activity.
Trafficking victims often did not turn to officials for help out of fear that border guards and police would deport them for immigration law violations. In many cases unidentified trafficking victims were quickly deported by border guards, preventing the government from providing assistance. NGOs attributed the deportations to the absence of national guidelines for police and border guards on how to approach and identify suspected victims. Victims were often prosecuted for carrying false travel documents, working illegally, and violating the terms of their visas. At times, deported victims were met at the border by their traffickers, who provided them with new travel documents and returned them to the country.
During the year the interagency team for combating trafficking in persons adopted national guidelines for police, border guard, and other law enforcement agencies, which provided instructions on identifying possible victims and how to approach and assist them. The Ministry of Interior funded NGOs to conduct regional training in all provinces; several hundred law enforcement officials were trained in trafficking issues by La Strada, Nobody's Children Foundation, and the Ministry of Interior.
During the year money was allocated for the first time from the state budget for victim assistance and educational and promotion materials. A total of $83,000 (250,000 zloty) was provided. The government also worked extensively with antitrafficking NGOs, such as La Strada. While the government provided space and funds to La Strada and another NGO to operate shelters for trafficking victims, the number of shelters remained inadequate, and NGOs frequently resorted to temporary arrangements to provide medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims.
With government financial assistance, NGOs also conducted trafficking training courses at police and border guard academies; provided counseling for victims and their families; developed training and prevention materials; and conducted public awareness campaigns on the dangers of trafficking. Newly hired border guards and police officers began receiving some training on trafficking.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, or the provision of other state services, including health care. The government effectively enforced these provisions; however, there were reports of some societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), less than one in five disabled persons were employed, and those who were employed tended to have part-time or temporary jobs in sheltered work enterprises. There are approximately 5.5 million persons with disabilities in the country.
The law states that buildings should be accessible for persons with disabilities, and at least three laws require retrofitting of existing buildings to make them accessible. Public buildings and transportation generally were accessible.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy is responsible for disability-related matters. There is a state fund for rehabilitation of persons with disabilities and a national consultation council for persons with disabilities that advised the ministry.
On September 18, the UN awarded President Kaczynski the Franklin D. Roosevelt Award for the country's efforts to integrate persons with disabilities into public life.
There were reports of increasing intolerance that often erupted into violence against racial and ethnic minorities. National and local officials and law enforcement agencies discouraged intolerance and discrimination; however, some minority groups and NGOs noted that the judiciary was lenient in sentencing perpetrators, which contributed to an atmosphere that accepted intolerance.
There were incidents of racially motivated violence and verbal and physical abuse directed at Roma and persons of African, Asian, or Arab descent. The small Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities also continued to experience petty harassment and discrimination.
During the year soccer stadiums were scenes of fascist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic demonstrations and actions by groups such as Blood and Honor, the National Rebirth of Poland, and the All Poland Youth, which is affiliated with a major Catholic political party. For example, in March managers of the Ruch Chorzow team decided not to employ a dark-skinned player from Morocco after receiving several anonymous threats. However, Stal Mielec managers refused to drop two Cameroonians from the team's roster despite receiving complaints from the Association for Polish Football, a football fan club. In the eastern city of Bialystok, fans threw bananas at a dark-skinned player and later beat him up after the match. Additionally, during the March derby in Krakow, fans of the Cracovia Krakow team yelled "monkey" at Wisla Krakow player Jean Paulista, a dark-skinned Brazilian.
On May 16, skinheads attacked a journalist in Warsaw with knives after he was identified "as an enemy of white people" on a Web site maintained by the Polish Blood and Honor group. On July 5, authorities arrested the Web site's administrator, Bartosz Barcicki, and charged him with disseminating Nazi ideas, xenophobia, and participating in an illegal group. The Web site was shut down but later reestablished.
On November 20, prosecutors in Olsztyn indicted two men charged with assaulting Moroccan long-time resident Abdel Mandili with a dangerous weapon. The men faced up to eight years' imprisonment for their July 23 attack on Mandili. The alleged attackers beat Mandili unconscious at a theater festival in Olsztyn after his group performed a play about the difficulties of immigrants. Eleven other suspects were arrested in connection with the attack but only two have been indicted.
Societal discrimination against Roma continued. In some cases local officials discriminated against Roma by not providing adequate social services. Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, the media, and education. During the year the IOM began a project as part of an EU-wide undertaking called EQUAL to combat unemployment and improve the situation of "disfavored" groups on the labor market. Under the program the IOM established four small Roma-run enterprises which have special legal status and tax privileges.
The Roma Association claimed that more than 50 percent of Romani children did not attend public school out of fear that teachers would try to assimilate them and uproot them from their Roma traditions. The association also noted that the gaps in education made it impossible for Roma to end their poverty; approximately 90 percent of Roma were unemployed.
On October 20, the Silesian community filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to annul the entire judicial process of their application for official minority status, thus ending the matter.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
International NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), and the European Parliament urged the government to end homophobia and to halt attacks on gays and lesbians. In June, HRW and AI separately issued statements expressing concern about possible violence in connection with an "equality parade" organized by a consortium of gay rights advocates (see section 2.b.); the parade was held June 10 without major incidents.
Prior to the equality parade, a Sejm member and prominent member of the Catholic League of Polish Families, Wojciech Wierzejski, criticized the event in remarks before the Sejm, describing gays as "deviants" and stating that, when the parade begins, marchers "should be beaten with batons."
On June 15, the European Parliament voted to condemn the rising environment of intolerance and homophobia in the country, with some parliamentarians singling out Wierzejski for inciting violence against gays and lesbians.
There was discrimination against HIV-positive persons. The national AIDS center reported no cases of discrimination against HIV-positive persons in the units supervised and funded by the center.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides that all workers, including civilian employees of the armed forces, police, and frontier guard, have the right to establish and join trade unions. While many workers exercised this right in practice, many small and medium-sized firms discriminated against those who attempted to organize labor. As a rule, newly established small and medium-sized firms were nonunion, while privatized formerly state-owned enterprises frequently continued union activity.
Under the law, 10 persons are required to form a local union and 30 persons for a national union. Unions must be registered with the courts. A court decision refusing registration may be appealed. The law does not give trade unions the freedom to exercise their right to organize all workers. For example, workers on individual contracts cannot form or join a trade union.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination; however, labor leaders reported that employers frequently discriminated against workers who attempted to organize or join unions, particularly in the private sector. In state-owned enterprises, such as the health, water, and forestry sectors, there were cases in which workers had their employment contracts terminated and replaced by individual contracts to prevent them from joining a union. Discrimination typically took the forms of intimidation, termination of work contracts without notice, and closing the workplace. The law also did not prevent employer harassment of union members for trade union activity; there were unconfirmed reports that some employers sanctioned employees who tried to set up unions. Managers also asked workers in the presence of a notary public to declare whether they were union members.
On March 7, the Impel-Tom company in Kostrzyn fired Jacek Rosolowski without cause after he and 11 other workers signed a letter of intent to form a workers' initiative. Rosolowski successfully sued his former employer. On November 8, the regional labor court awarded him $2,400 (7,000 zloty) in damages. Three others who signed the letter of intent had also lost their jobs at Impel-Tom at year's end.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference; however, in practice the government failed to protect this right at small and medium-sized companies. The law provides for and protects enterprise-level collective bargaining over wages and working conditions. As of June there were 166 collective bargaining agreements between employers and trade unions, with 198 amendments addressing salary, work conditions, or the needs of individual companies. The tripartite commission (unions, employers, and the government) was the main forum that determined national wage and benefit increases in areas such as the social services sector.
Key public sector employers (largely in heavy industry and the social services sector) could not negotiate with labor without the extensive involvement of the ministries to which they were subordinate. The law provides for parties to take group disputes to labor courts, then to the prosecutor general, and, as a last resort, to the Administrative Court. Through the first half of the year, groups filed 492 such disputes.
All workers have the right to strike except those in essential services such as security forces, the Supreme Chamber of Audit, police, border guards, and fire brigades. These workers had the right to protest and seek resolution of their grievances through mediation and the court system. A majority of strikes were technically illegal because one or both sides did not follow each step exactly. Labor courts acted slowly in deciding the legality of strikes, while sanctions against unions for calling illegal strikes and against employers for provoking them were minimal. Unions alleged that laws prohibiting retribution against strikers were not enforced consistently and that the small fines imposed as punishment were ineffective deterrents. Organizers are liable for damages and may face civil charges and fines.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports that such practices occurred (see section 5).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law protects children from exploitation in the workplace, including forced or compulsory labor, and the government effectively enforced the law in practice. The law prohibits the employment of persons under age 15. Persons between the ages of 15 and 18 may be employed only if they have completed primary school, the proposed employment constitutes vocational training, and the work is not harmful to their health.
The State Labor Inspectorate (PIP) reported that increasing numbers of minors worked, and that many employers underpaid them or paid them late. During the year the inspectorate conducted 292 investigations involving 1,929 underage employees. Fines were levied in 100 cases, amounting to approximately $21,000 (63,550 zloty).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The new national monthly minimum wage of $300 (899 zloty) that took effect on January 1 did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The large size of the informal economy and the low number of government labor inspectors made enforcement of the minimum wage difficult. A large percentage of construction workers and seasonal agricultural laborers from Ukraine and Belarus earned less than the minimum wage.
The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours, with an upper limit of 48 hours per week including overtime. The law requires premium pay for overtime hours, but there were reports that this regulation was often ignored. The law provided for workers to receive at least 11 hours of uninterrupted rest per day and 35 hours of uninterrupted rest per week.
The law defines strict and extensive minimum conditions to protect worker health and safety. It empowers PIP to supervise and monitor implementation of worker health and safety laws and to close workplaces with unsafe conditions. However, PIP was unable to monitor workplace safety sufficiently. According to government statistics, 41,174 persons were injured, 201 persons killed, and 440 persons seriously injured on the job during the first six months of the year. Employers routinely exceeded standards for exposure to chemicals, dust, and noise.
The law permits workers to remove themselves from dangerous working conditions without losing their jobs; however, they were unable to do so in practice without jeopardizing their employment.