Population: 38,500,000
Capital: Warsaw
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

No relevant legislative changes nor, regrettably, significant improvement in the practical implementation of trade union rights can be reported. At least 37 trade unionists, half of them trade union officials, were dismissed for their trade union activities.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of Association – with restrictions: The law gives all workers, including civilian employees of the armed forces, police and border guards, the right to form and join trade unions. However, civil servants cannot hold a trade union post, which restricts a trade union's right to elect their representatives. Trade union law is interpreted as applying to employees and civil servants only, which means that the self-employed or those working on the basis of individual or civil contracts may not form or join unions, and unions may not defend them. A minimum of ten people may form a local union and 30 a national one. Trade union organisations are required to give employers quarterly reports on the total number of trade union members.

The law recognises trade union pluralism with the exception of policemen, border guards and prison guards, firemen of the State Fire Brigades and the employees of the Highest Supervision Chamber, where the single trade union system applies.

Collective bargaining: Collective bargaining is a recognised and protected right. This was further strengthened on 23 May 2006 when the Supreme Court confirmed that the social clauses negotiated as part of the privatisation process but poorly implemented in the past were fully enforceable. Anti-union discrimination is banned.

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

Labour Code reform uncertain: The 2006 Survey (covering 2005) reported the controversial proposal for a new Labour Code that would have diminished workers' and trade union rights and which trade unions strongly opposed. In September 2006 the amended proposal was unveiled and it still includes a number of problematic provisions, such as less protection from dismissal for trade union officials and greater court intervention in the right to strike. However, this proposal has not been debated yet and the government has not been pushing for its adoption.

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

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

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

Trade union rights in practice

Law ineffective in protecting rights: In practice, unions report that employers discriminate against workers who try to organise in the private sector, and that the law has not been sufficiently dissuasive to prevent harassment.

Trade unionists are often summarily dismissed on disciplinary grounds. Workers wishing to form or join a trade union have been intimidated or even dismissed straight after informing the employer that a trade union had been formed or when a collective dispute takes place. Some employers have only given bonuses and promotions to non-unionised workers, and banned trade union workplace meetings. Workers are allowed to turn to labour courts, but procedures are lengthy and implementation is not effective. The NSZZ Solidarnosc confederation (affiliated to the ITUC) reported that, in 2006, half of the sentences and agreements supervised by the labour inspectorate were not enforced.

In cases of unfair dismissal, it has often proved difficult to ensure the reinstatement of the workers concerned. In the case of Jutrzenka SA in Poznan the dismissed shop steward was reinstated to his job and his trade union post, but the employer rented an office for the trade union outside of the company premises, and the shop steward was prevented from visiting the workplace.

Consultation rights ignored: Employers often ignore the law that obliges them to consult trade unions prior to making decisions that affect workers. For example, Radio Opole SA attempted to introduce the new works regulations without consulting the union.

New forms of work to escape trade unions: Many workers in state-owned enterprises such as the health sector, water and forestry industries have had their employment contracts terminated and replaced by individual contracts. Other workers, especially in the transport and construction sectors, have been fired and then re-hired as self-employed. In either case, the workers can no longer be trade union members.

A growing number of people are forced to take jobs in the informal economy, where they are not entitled to join a trade union.

Legal strikes too complicated: Employers frequently do not respect the right to strike and they force workers to sign declarations that they will not join a strike. Moreover, long and complicated strike procedures mean that many strikes are carried out illegally. As a result, strikers risk losing their social benefits and union organisations risk having to pay damages. The All-Poland alliance of trade unions reported a new practice, whereby law enforcement bodies tried to intimidate trade unionists prior to the commencement of a strike. The police spoke several times with trade union officials supporting the strike action in a salt mining factory in Inowroclaw, for example.

Disputes: Collective dispute procedures are violated on a regular basis, either because employers choose not to acknowledge the dispute or make it impossible to appoint a mediator.

Violations in 2006

Background: Parties described as populist or even nationalist joined the conservative government. Unemployment reached 15 per cent in December, the highest in the EU. Non-payment of wages remained a problem, with almost 37 thousand enterprises inspected by the State Labour Inspectorate proving to be dishonest in this respect. Irregular overtime, miscalculation of working hours and denial of holidays and days off work became common practice and blatant violations of workers' rights in supermarkets came to public attention. In general, however, the workers rarely protest for the fear of losing their jobs.

Ban on organising at the Stokrotka supermarket network: The Stokrotka network (about 1,500 employees, 80 per cent of whom are very low-paid), owned by the "Eldorado" company, became infamous when its employees informed the press of the blatant violations of labour rights, including the management ban on organising. These accusations were later confirmed by the labour inspectorate. NSZZ Solidarnosc still exists in the company, although only the trade union's officials are public about their membership. In December two workers were summarily dismissed just because the management noticed them talking to a shop steward. The Head Labour Inspectorate instigated a general inquiry into the situation at the company. No outcome was available at the time of writing.

Trade unionists dismissed at Selgros: A primary level union of NSZZ Solidarnosc at the Selgros retail network market in Wroclaw was registered in December. The newly-elected shop steward immediately notified the management that a trade union had been formed, only to be dismissed from work the very same day, along with two other trade union organisers. To circumvent the dismissal protection rules for workers' representatives, the management pre-dated the dismissal notice by three days. When the shop steward, refusing to accept the dismissal, came to work the next day, the company security guards removed him from the premises. In a period of 30 days the company dismissed a total of nine people who were linked to the formation of the union.

Undercover investigation into trade union activities: The position of private security employees in Poland is extremely precarious, with many working 300-400 hours per month for the average hourly wage of one euro, often without contracts. The security workers of Warsaw had been trying to organise for several months, but when two workers from the Ekotrade security agency came to the NSZZ Solidarnosc office in Warsaw to join a trade union, they were, in fact, the employers' representatives using fake names. Unfortunately, they managed to spot a genuine Ekotrade employee during their visit, proving he was engaged in trade union activities. He was dismissed over the telephone after he left the office.

Union members barred from new company: The management of Miranda SA in Turek established a subsidiary company Miranda Ltd. Workers who wished to be transferred there were told that they could only be employed if they voluntarily resigned from their old jobs and their trade union membership. They were also required to sign a declaration that they would never form or join a trade union. According to the trade union at Miranda SA, the management sabotaged the appointment of a mediator and other procedures related to this collective dispute.

Driven underground: The management of PKS SA in Minsk Mazowiecki deprived the trade union's enterprise commission of the right to use a room on the premises, preventing the commission from carrying out its work. In the meantime the shop steward was illegally dismissed and subsequently the whole trade union has had to work underground. A court ruled that the dismissal was illegal, but ordered no reinstatement since it would be, in the court's view, "pointless".

Anti-union surveillance at Zywiec Trade: The Zywiec Trade company in the city of Lodz denied their workers' unions a separate working space. The union liaison body managed to obtain an office only thanks to the prosecutor's intervention. In the meantime trade union meetings were recorded by management and the union telephone line was bugged. The company CEO also attempted to get their own "candidate", who was persuaded to represent the employer's interests with the promise of a pay rise, elected as a trade union official.

Interference at Frito Lay: On 13 January Frito Lay Poland Ltd (a branch of PepsiCo international) in Grodzisk Mazowiecki distributed a form for their workers to sign, which contained statements on their resignation from the trade union. The form had to be returned in five days. The union had been in dispute with the company since 2004 over a sexual harassment case.

Union busting at Media Markt: On 15 September, two days after a trade union was organised, the shop steward of the temporary workers' enterprise commission, Mr. Andrzej Rosinki was dismissed on disciplinary grounds. As a result, workers who had previously expressed their intention to become trade union members changed their minds. Some workers were asked to sign a declaration that there was no need for a trade union in the company. Two of the 19 trade union members resigned due to the employer's harassment, two left as their fixed-term contracts were not renewed and one was dismissed. The Gdansk regional board of NSZZ Solidarnosc organised a rally in defence of the dismissed shop steward.

Harassment at PKS Connex Ltd. in Kolobrzeg: Lower-level management exerted pressure on employees to make them denounce the activities of the trade union's enterprise commission. The situation became more tense after the trade union asked the national labour inspectorate to investigate the calculation of overtime. The management missed no opportunity to harass trade union members.

Retaliation for speaking up: On 11 September POLFA S.A. in Warsaw dismissed Mr. Piotr Krolik, an activist from the All Poland Alliance of Trade Unions, OPZZ, after he disclosed bad practice by company management. The OPZZ took the company to court for unfair dismissal.

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.