EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Protests mount over Polish ‘junk’ job contracts

About

Country: 
Poland
Author: 
Maciej Pańków
Institution: 
Institute of Public Affairs

Objections are growing in Poland to the use of temporary and civil contracts. Poland has the highest proportion of these ‘junk contracts’ in the European Union. An open letter has been sent to the Prime Minister, whose Civic Platform party promoted these contracts in its election programme. National celebrities are set to join a campaign organised by the union Solidarity. However, many employers believe that such flexible contracts are justified in the economic crisis.

Background

At the end of 2010, Poland had the highest proportion of workers in the European Union employed on fixed-term contracts. Statistics from Eurostat show 27.7% of the country’s total number of employees have these contracts, while the EU27 average is 14%.Civil law contracts, which are not governed by labour law, are also commonly used, especially for young people, with a report (in Polish, 1.4Mb PDF) by the National Labour Inspectorate indicating that in 2010, 20.9% of workers signed civil law contracts. This issue has also been addressed in a government report The Young 2011 (PL1106039I).

Both types of contracts fail to ensure job security, which causes a lack of stability in workers’ lives. Indeed, some temporary contracts which are valid for more than six months have clauses allowing the employer to give only two weeks’ notice for dismissal, and with no obligation to give a reason. People employed with civil law contracts are not covered by the Labour Code and do not have the right, for instance, to paid leave or the minimum wage.

Unions attack election proposal

In its election programme, the main coalition party, the Civic Platform (PO), proposed amending the Labour Code to include measures on renewable seasonal contracts. The document says:

For the duration of the contract, the employee would be entitled to pay, yet he would not be paid if he didn’t work due to reasons given by the employer.

Although PO and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) have been re-elected to government, they have not yet made this proposal any more specific.

Before the elections, in October 2011, the proposal was attacked by one of the three biggest trade unions, the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ), and it helped to intensify the debate about the ‘junk contracts’. Part of the Euro demonstration on 17 September (PL1109029I) was directed against these contracts. On 6 October, the OPZZ President Jan Guz published an open letter (in Polish) to Prime Minister Donald Tusk asking him to explain the PO proposal which, he said, constituted:

an unprecedented and unfair solution consisting of transferring the economic risk of running a business to the employee.

The Prime Minister has not responded to the letter.

Solidarity launches campaign

Piotr Duda, President of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union ‘Solidarity’ (NSSZ ‘Solidarność’), announced a campaign against junk contracts to be supported by celebrities from the media, sports and politics. An on-line, interactive, ‘junk contracts map’ will be created and an academic study is to be carried out.

It was also reported by the press (Rzeczpospolita, 9 November) that NSZZ ‘Solidarność’ also plans to ask the Polish branch of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to examine whether it is a breach of international conventions that people with civil law contracts have no right to join a union.

Employers object to extending workers’ rights

However, employers have objected to the idea of allowing workers on civil contracts to join a union. Zbigniew Żurek, Deputy President of the Business Centre Club (BCC) suggested that these workers could form associations instead. Małgorzata Rusewicz, Social Dialogue and Employment Director of the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan (PKPP Lewiatan), points out that the very nature of civil law contracts prevents those governed by them from being covered by collective agreements. She added that, since such contracts are governed by the Civil Code, any amendments would also require radical changes not only in the Act on trade unions but also in the Labour Law, the Civil Code and the Code of Civil Procedure.

Commentary

The major trade unions in Poland are determined to reform the use of ‘junk contracts’, and they became somewhat radicalised over this issue in October during the elections. However, many employers’ groups believe flexible contracts are crucial to combat the economic crisis. The union campaign and the systematic research into the undesirable effects of this trend may, however, reduce the pressure on market liberalisation under the guise of fighting the economic crisis.

Maciej Pańków, Institute of Public Affairs