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15 June 2017

The struggle against ‘junk contracts’ in Poland

Labour market reforms implemented in Poland since the early 2000s have resulted in a steady expansion of non-standard employment. In recent years, trade unions in Poland have put together innovative instruments to tackle this phenomenon.

In 2015, the country had the highest share of temporary workers among EU Member States (28%). The number of people working on the basis of contracts not regulated by the labour, but civil law, has also been rising. In 2012, 1.35 million Poles, or 13% of the country’s working population, were bound by this type of contract.

The young population is the most impacted by low wages, lack of employment stability and limited possibilities to be covered by a union. At the same time, job instability affects those in standard employment insofar as it creates new benchmarks to assess ‘normal employment’ and serves as a tool to discipline the ‘core’ workforce.

Over the past years, the Polish trade union movement has launched various initiatives to reverse the trend. They aim at bringing together workers regardless of their employment status in the form of peer-support groups, and they are also open to students and unemployed people.

Unions’ organising efforts went hand in hand with the increased use of communication tools. The label ‘junk contracts’ to signify civil-law contracts and other labour-law-circumventing accords, coined by the small radical union OZZ IP, was picked up by mainstream labour organisations and subsequently made its way to public and political discourse.

Unions’ activism prompted a change in media rhetoric: the popular press moved away from the unconditional support for liberal labour market strategies and made space for unions’ reform proposals in relation to non-standard workers.

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