European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Strikes in Poland: background summary

Poland ranks at the bottom of industrial action statistics across Europe. This, however, should be considered in the context of the entire industrial relations landscape, where a vast part of the national workforce is deprived of any access to organised representation.

Background info

  • In Poland, a strike, before it is called, must be preceded by collective dispute and a strike referendum.
  • According to the Collective Disputes Act, only trade unions can legally organise a strike action. Works councils are not allowed to call a strike, and spontaneous strikes of ad hoc groups of workers are also unlawful.
  • Approximately 40% of the national workforce works for micro-enterprises (1-9 persons) and therefore has no direct access to union representation, as the threshold for a basic organisational unit of trade unions (company-level union) is determined by the Trade Unions Act at 10 eligible employees. As a consequence, these workers have no right to industrial action.
  • Since 1989, when the political and economic transformation first took off, the number of strikes has remained quite consistently low, with the exception of two periods: 1992-1993 (resistance to the initial wave of industrial restructuring) and 2007-2008 (post-EU accession economic prosperity period, combined with a massive outward migration to the EU-15, which enhanced the bargaining power of employees).
  • According to GUS, there were only three strikes registered in 2014, causing a total of 212 working days lost. This is a significant drop when compared to the 10,100 days lost due to 93 strikes in 2013. Although no statistical data is available yet for 2015, it is certain that there was an increased intensity of industrial action.
  • Other forms of employee protest are engaged in, including street demonstrations and rallies held outside workplaces. These in particular are popular in the public sector as a means of wage bargaining with the government. Due to the fact that 2015 was an election year, these forms of pressure intensified. The most spectacular examples were the demonstrations held in September by nurses (some 10,000 participants, eventually leading to the signing of an agreement between the Ministry of Health and the major sectoral trade union OZZPiP), and in October by teachers (who, besides pay demands, protested against anticipated job cuts in public education and appealed to the government to take necessary steps to prepare the national school system for the foreseen entry of refugee youth).
  • Another occupational group which engaged in industrial action in 2015 were miners. Plans for economic restructuring in Kompania Węglowa, the largest mining operation in Europe - triggered by the deteriorating economic performance of the enterprise - entailed closures of the most unprofitable mines and likely redundancies. Sectoral trade unions therefore put pressure on the government by demanding a more proactive stance and financial support. The conflict escalated into strike action in January 2015. This led to the government presenting a compromise strategic plan, under which a special purpose company called the Coal-mine Restructuring Company was established with an objective to accumulate ‘toxic assets’; that is, to take over four unprofitable mines with a view towards incremental closure. The remaining eleven mines were to be taken over by Nowa Kompania Węglowa.