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Collective Bargaining

Only a minority of employees in Poland are covered by collective bargaining, which takes place largely at company or workplace level. This means that where there are no unions to take up the issue, pay and conditions are set unilaterally by employers – subject to the national minimum wage.

The framework

 

Collective bargaining in Poland can take place either at the level of a single company or workplace or at a multi-employer level. However, in terms both of numbers covered and impact, it is collective bargaining at individual company level that is more important, although overall the impact of collective bargaining is limited.[1]

 

There are relatively few agreements at multi-employer  level. The Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy, with which they must be registered, states on its website that currently there are only 61multi-employer agreements still in existence, along with 197 additional protocols (the usual mechanism for renewing agreements). This is only around a third of the 174 multi-employer agreements which were registered in the past. The others have either been terminated by one of the parties (99) or are effectively defunct as one of the parties no longer has the authority to sign the agreement (14). In total, the remaining agreements are estimated to cover around 200,000 employees.[2] A high proportion cover non-teaching staff working in education.[3] In some cases, the agreements do little more than restate the existing labour legislation.

 

The Polish Labour Code provides for the possibility of the government extending these multi-employer agreements to other employers with similar operations where there is “an important social interest” in doing so. However, this power has never been used.

 

Collective agreements at the level of individual companies or workplaces are more numerous than multi-employer agreements and cover more employees. They must be registered with the local labour inspectorate and the 2018 annual report from the national labour inspectorate (PIP) shows that 54 new collective agreements (covering 21,067 employees) and 945 additional protocols were registered in that year.[4] This compares with 50 (covering 28,230) in 2017 and 79 (covering 38,227) in 2016. Over a slightly longer period, the average number of company agreements is clearly falling. In the five years 2014 to 2108, an average of 68 agreements at this level were registered annually. In the five years before that, 2009 to 2013, the average was 118.

 

In addition, as is pointed out in the 2014 report from the labour inspectorate– the last one to examine collective agreements in detail, most of these agreements are replacing previous agreements which have been terminated. In 2014 there were only 25 agreements reached for the first time and 63 which replaced existing agreements.[5]

 

The 2014 labour inspectorate report also provides details on the number and coverage agreements at company and workplace level. On 31 December 2014, there were 8,173 agreements which were still current, covering around 1.8 million employees.

 

Taken with the 200,000 covered by multi-workplace agreements (see above), this suggests that collective bargaining coverage in Poland is around 15%. An ETUI examination of collective bargaining in Poland estimated coverage at 18% in 2015.[6]

 

Whichever estimate is taken, the majority of employees are not covered by collective agreements at any level. The 2014 labour inspectorate report talks of a “decreasing number of collective agreements”, an assessment shared by the unions. In October 2017, Piotr Duda, the head of NSZZ Solidarność, one of the largest union groupings in Poland told a conference, “unfortunately and with regret, one has to say that there are practically no collective agreements in Poland”.[7]  

 

There is certainly no obligation on employers to negotiate a collective agreement, although, where one does not exist and the workplace has more than 20 workers, the employer must produce “remuneration regulations” (regulamin wynagrodzenia), setting out the basis on which individuals are paid and key working conditions.However, these are not negotiated but decided by the employer unilaterally.

 

The limited extent of multi-employer collective bargaining makes any discussion over the relationship between company-level and multi-level bargaining largely theoretical but the basic principles which applies is that workers’ terms are set by the agreement which is most beneficial to them.

 

Employers in financial difficulties have since 2002 been able to suspend collective agreements and other elements of their contractual obligations towards their employees, such as the remuneration regulations, for up to three years. By law this should be agreed with the trade union organisation in the workplace that initially signed the agreement, although this does not always happen. The 2018 report from the labour inspectorate states that there were 26 cases where a suspension of this sort was registered – slightly lower figure than in other recent years (2017 – 27; 2016 – 40; and 2015 – 50).

 

As well as negotiations at company level and to a lesser extent multi-workplace level, Poland also has a tripartite body, the Social Dialogue Council (RDS) which brings together representatives of unions, employers and government. On the union side its members come in equal number from NSZZ Solidarność, OPZZ and FZZ.

 

The RDS was set up in 2015 after the previous tripartite body, the Tripartite Commission (TK), collapsed in 2013, when the three main union bodies withdrew as a protest against the government’s social policy. The intention is that the RDS should provide a forum for unions and employers to influence government policy, including by commenting on employment and social legislation, and that it should also allow unions and employers to reach their own independent agreements. In addition, it plays a specific role in setting the minimum wage (see below).

 

However, experience with the RDS has not been particularly positive with suggestions that it has been marginalised and that the government ignores its proposals.[8] New powers for the government during the coronavirus pandemic giving it the right to remove RDS members were particularly criticised.

Who negotiates and when?

 

Agreements at the level of the individual company or workplace are negotiated between the individual employer and the local trade union organisation.[9] The legislation states that where there is more than one trade union organisation within the company the union organisations should negotiate jointly. This frequently occurs in practice, as relations between members of the different union confederations are often better at workplace than at national level.

 

The agreement should be reached with all the unions in the workplace or at least all the “representative” unions in the workplace – these are defined as having at least 15% of the workforce in membership – or 8% if the union organisation concerned belongs to one of the three nationally representative union bodies, NSZZ Solidarność, OPZZ and FZZ. If no union represents at least 10% of the workforce, then the agreement should be signed with the largest union in the company.

 

These rules were changed through amendments to the trade union law, which came into effect on 1 January 2019. The changes raised the thresholds for the definition of representative unions from 7% to 8% for nationally representative unions and from 10% to 15% for other unions. Unions were already obliged to provide the employer with their membership numbers and the 2019 legislation requires unions to provide these more frequently and gives employers, and other unions, the right to ask a court to verify the figures.

 

Multi-employer agreements are negotiated between an employers’ association and unions, which either have representative status (meaning that belong to one of the three nationally representative union bodies, or represent at least 10% of the employees and have at least 10,000 members in the companies to be covered by the agreement, or are the largest union in the companies being covered.

 

Agreements are typically for a year although financial difficulties sometimes mean that there is no annual settlement.

 

The subject of the negotiations

 

Agreements normally cover pay and its various components such as bonuses and allowances, although settlements often provide for one-off payments rather than percentage increases. Other issues covered include the organisation of working time, leave, health and safety, retirement and pension benefits, severance pay, premia for overtime, night time and holiday working, notice periods and company social benefits. However, the 2014 labour inspectorate report pointed to a “continuing tendency towards giving up earlier more favourable arrangements” with agreements reverting to the minimum employee rights set out in the Labour Code.     It concluded: “The data show a decreasing number of collective agreements, limiting the scope of employee rights and a continuing tendency to terminate existing agreements and replace them with remuneration regulations.”[10]

 

Poland has a national minimum wage. The government is required to present its proposal on the minimum wage for the following year to the tripartite body the RDS by 15 June. The representatives of the unions and the employers then have an opportunity to express their views and, if possible, agree common position on the amount. Where agreement cannot be reached, the national minimum wage is set by government regulation.

[1] For a detailed analysis of collective bargaining in Poland see Collective bargaining in Poland: a near-death experience by Jan Czarzasty in Collective bargaining in Europe: towards an endgame, edited by Torsten Müller, Kurt Vandaele and Jeremy Waddington, ETUI, 2019

[2] Stan rejestru prowadzonego przez Ministra Rodziny, Pracy i Polityki Społecznej http://www.dialog.gov.pl/dialog-krajowy/uklady-zbiorowe-pracy/stan-rejestru-prowadzonego-przez-ministra-rodziny-pracy-i-polityki-spolecznej/ (Accessed 24.06.2020) 

[3] Living and working in Poland, by Jan Czarzasty and Adam Mrozowicki, Eurofound, May 2020 https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/country/poland#actors-and-institutions  (Accessed 24.06.20)

[4] Sprawozdanie Głównego Inspektora Pracy z działalności Państwowej Inspekcji Pracy w 2018 roku, p. 304-305. https://www.pip.gov.pl/pl/o-urzedzie/sprawozdania-z-dzialalnosci/104556,sprawozdanie-glownego-inspektora-pracy-z-dzialalnosci-panstwowej-inspekcji-pracy-2018.html  (Accessed 24.06.2020)

[5] Sprawozdanie Głównego Inspektora Pracy z działalności Państwowej Inspekcji Pracy w 2014 roku, p. 28 https://www.pip.gov.pl/pl/f/v/133794/sprawozdanie%202014.pdf (Accessed 24.06.2020)

[6] Collective bargaining in Poland: a near-death experience by Jan Czarzasty

[7] Układy zbiorowe w oczach związkowców i polityków,

[8] RDS nie spełnia oczekiwań. Rząd ją ignoruje, a partnerzy społeczni są coraz bardziej skłóceni by Łukasz Guza, Gazeta Prawna, 23.09.2019,   https://praca.gazetaprawna.pl/artykuly/1431216,rada-dialogu-spolecznego-solidarnosc-zpp-rzad.html (Accessed 24.06.2020)

[9]On the relation between the collective agreements concluded on different levels see ‚Legal framework for collective labour agreements and other collective agreements in Poland“, by D. Skupień, in Überbetriebliche versus innerbetriebliche Kollektivvereinbarungen, 5. Arbeitsrechtlicher Dialog, Nomos, Baden-Baden 2012, s. 69.

[10] Sprawozdanie Głównego Inspektora Pracy z działalności Państwowej Inspekcji Pracy w 2014 roku, p. 28 https://www.pip.gov.pl/pl/f/v/133794/sprawozdanie%202014.pdf (Accessed 24.06.2020)

L. Fulton (2021) National Industrial Relations, an update (2019-2021). Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.