Poland is a republic with a multiparty democracy. The bicameral parliament consists of an upper house, the senate (Senat), and a lower house (Sejm). The president and the Council of Ministers headed by the prime minister share executive power. Observers considered the October 21 nationwide regional and local elections free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included criminal defamation penalties and violence targeting members of ethnic minorities.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent trade unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and provides legal measures under which workers fired for union activity may demand reinstatement. On July 25, the president signed the revision of the law on trade unions to expand the right to form a union to persons who entered into an employment relationship based on a civil law contract, or to persons who were self-employed. The law is the result of the 2015 the Constitutional Court ruling that found any limitation to the freedom of association violates the constitution, and required the government and parliament to amend the law on trade unions.
Government workers, including police officers, border guards, prison guards, and employees of the supreme audit office, are limited to a single union. Workers in services deemed essential, such as security forces, the Supreme Chamber of Audit, police, border guards, and fire brigades, do not have the right to strike. These workers have the rights to protest and to seek resolution of their grievances through mediation and the court system.
Trade unions are registered when at least 10 eligible persons adopt a resolution to form a trade union. Newly established trade unions must appoint a founding committee consisting of three to seven persons. A new trade union must register with the National Court Registry within 30 days of the resolution. The court may remove a trade union from the registry only if a trade union adopts a resolution to dissolve; is no longer able to operate due to the bankruptcy, liquidation, or reorganization of the company in which the trade union operated; or if a trade union has fewer than 10 members for more than three months.
Legal strike ballots require the support of the majority of union voters. To allow for required mediation, a strike may not be called fewer than 14 days after workers present their demands to an employer. The law obligates employers to notify the district inspection office in their region about a group dispute in the workplace. Cumbersome procedures made it difficult for workers to meet all of the technical requirements for a legal strike. What constitutes a strike under the labor law is limited to strikes regarding wages and working conditions, social benefits, and the trade union rights and freedoms of workers. The law prohibits collective bargaining for key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges, and prosecutors.
The penalties for obstructing trade union activity range from fines to community service. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws. Resources, inspections, and remediation efforts were not adequate, and the small fines imposed as punishment were an ineffective deterrent to employers. Administrative and judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Unions alleged that the government did not consistently enforce laws prohibiting retribution against strikers. On May 28, the state-owned national airline LOT fired trade union leader Monika Zelazik, who tried to organize a strike at the company in May. In July the Chief Labor Inspectorate initiated legal proceedings against LOT management claiming that Zelazik’s firing constituted a violation of the law on trade unions. On October 22, LOT fired 67 employees for organizing a strike on October 18 that the company described as illegal. On November 1, LOT management and trade unions signed an agreement ending the strike, and all 67 fired employees returned to work. On November 20, the Warsaw local court rejected a motion by LOT management challenging the legality of the October strike.
Trade union representatives stated that violations of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining occurred. While many workers exercised the right to organize and join unions, many small- and medium-sized firms, which employed a majority of the workforce, discriminated against those who attempted to organize. The government enforced applicable laws but penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Labor leaders continued to report that employers regularly discriminated against workers who attempted to organize or join unions, particularly in the private sector. Discrimination typically took the forms of intimidation, termination of work contracts without notice, and closing of the workplace. Some employers sanctioned employees who tried to organize unions.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, forced labor occurred.
The government effectively enforced the law. Penalties for forced labor violations were sufficiently stringent to deter violations. In 2017, the most recent year for which statistics were available, the government assisted in removing 74 victims from forced labor.
There were reports that foreign and Polish men and women were subjected to forced labor in construction, agriculture and restaurants and children were subjected to forced begging (see section 7.c., Child Labor).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits the employment of children younger than 16, with exceptions in the cultural, artistic, sporting, and advertising fields when parents or guardians and the local labor inspector give their permission. The labor inspector issues a permit on the basis of psychological and medical examinations. Child labor is not allowed if the work may pose any threat to life, health or physical and mental development of the child, or will conflict with the child’s education. The government effectively enforced applicable laws but penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Some children younger than 18 engaged in hazardous work in agriculture, primarily on family farms. Migrant Romani children from Romania were subjected to forced begging. Commercial sexual exploitation of children also occurred (see section 6, Children).
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment or occupation in any way, directly or indirectly, on the grounds of race, sex, color, religion, political opinion, national origin, ethnic origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, trade union membership, and regardless of whether the person is hired for definite or indefinite contracts, or for full- or half-time work. The law does not specifically prohibit such discrimination based on language, HIV-positive status, gender identity, or social status. According to the Polish Society for Antidiscrimination Law, by law the accused must prove that discrimination did not take place, but judges often placed the burden on the victim to prove that discrimination occurred. The government enforced applicable laws, but penalties were not sufficient to deter violations.
Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to gender, age, minority status, disability, political opinion, sexual orientation and gender identity, and trade union membership. According to an EC report on equality published in March, the gender wage gap in 2016 was 7.2 percent. Discrimination against Romani workers also occurred (see section 6).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national monthly minimum wage and the minimum wage for formal work agreements meet the social minimum monthly income level. There is no minimum wage for informal work agreements. The government effectively enforced wage laws but penalties were not sufficient to deter violations; there were reports of employers withholding wages or underpaying laborers on informal work agreements, particularly among Ukrainian migrant workers.
The constitution provides every employee the right to statutorily specified days free from work as well as annual paid holidays.
The law defines strict and extensive minimum conditions to protect worker health and safety, and empowers the National Labor Inspectorate (NLI) to supervise and monitor implementation of worker health and safety laws and to close workplaces with unsafe conditions. Workers could remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The NLI’s powers are limited to the formal economy; it does not have authority to monitor implementation of worker health and safety laws in the informal economy, private farms, and households.
Resources were inadequate to enforce effectively minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety in the formal or informal sectors. The number of labor inspectors was not sufficient to deter violations.
According to the inspectorate’s 2017 report, the most frequent labor rights violations concerned failure to pay or delayed payment of wages, failure to pay for overtime work, and failure to sign a labor contract in situations when the job performed constituted regular labor. Most wage payment violations occurred in the services, construction, and processing industries. Seasonal workers were particularly vulnerable to such violations. The national inspectorate’s report did not cover domestic workers because inspectors could only conduct inspections in businesses, not private homes. The second-most common problem was inaccurate timekeeping records for hours worked.
Employers often ignored requirements regarding overtime pay. A large percentage of construction workers and seasonal agricultural laborers from Ukraine and Belarus earned less than the minimum wage. The large size of the informal economy–particularly in the construction and transportation industries–and the low number of government labor inspectors made enforcement of the minimum wage difficult. The Main Statistical Office definition of informal economy includes unregistered employment performed without a formal contract or agreement, and is not counted as a contribution to social security and from which income taxes are not deducted. According to the Central Statistical Office, in 2017 (the latest year for which data were available), approximately 5.4 percent of workforce (880,000 persons) worked in the informal economy.
Trade union leaders stated penalties for employers were not sufficient to deter violations. In the case of serious violations, labor inspectors may submit the case to a court, which may impose a fine of up to 30,000 zloty ($7,600). According to labor laws, persons who maliciously violate the labor rights of employees may face up to two years’ imprisonment. International observers noted that the NLI’s mandate both to confirm the legal status of workers and to monitor working conditions creates a potential conflict of interest.
During the year the NLI continued a public awareness campaign to lower the number of work-related accidents in logging and timber companies and conducted a “Work Legally” public awareness campaign promoting legal employment. In addition, the NLI continued a prevention and information campaign–”Construction Site. No More Accidents!”–that targeted construction companies and included training on work safety standards for employees and employers. During the year the NLI implemented its “Respect Life–Safe Work on Private Farms” campaign and visited many private farms to assess safety conditions and organized a number of competitions for individual farmers.
In the first half of the year, the Central Statistical Office (CSO) reported 37,007 victims of workplace accidents, a decrease of 2,086 from the same period in 2017. The highest number of victims worked in industrial processing, trade, car repairs, the health-service sector, transportation, warehouse management, and construction. The CSO reported 73 work-related deaths during the first six months of the year, in comparison with 93 death accidents during the same period in 2017. The CSO reported most of fatal accidents occurred in construction, industrial processing, and transport. In 2017 the inspectorate investigated 2,479 accidents in which there were deaths or injuries, including 263 workers killed and 924 persons seriously injured. The NLI reported that, as in previous years, most of the fatal accidents occurred in the construction, industrial-processing, transport, farming and forestry, mining, and trade industries. Employers routinely exceeded standards limiting exposure to chemicals, dust, and noise. According to the inspectorate’s 2017 report, inadequate training of employees, the poor quality of job-related risk assessment tools, and inadequate measures by employers to prevent accidents were the leading causes of workplace accidents.