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Employers Associations and Trade Unions in Poland

1. Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Organizations

The essence of the freedom to associate results in an unrestricted possibility to establish trade unions and employers’ organizations and to join such organizations. The freedom is guaranteed both in the Constitution of the Republic of Poland and in the Labour Code. These issues are regulated in detail in the Act on trade unions and in the Act on employers’ organizations.

The special character of trade unions and employers’ organizations results from the fact that they have the right to negotiate and to conclude collective labour agreements and other settlement agreements.

Employers’ associations are corporate organizations, which have the status of a legal person based on collectiveness of their members. Such organizations protect employer rights and interests in employment relations. Therefore, they aim at protecting business, financial and economic as well as organizational and functional interests. All employers are entitled to the freedom to form employer associations.

Trade unions, on the other hand, are social organizations, which associate working people. They are a voluntary form of self-organizing and operate on the basis of statutorily shaped organizational structures which have a legal personality. Trade unions represent employees and protect their dignity, rights and material and moral interests, both collective and individual ones. They also have a right to represent employees’ interests internationally. Trade unions co-participate in creating advantageous conditions for work, life and rest.

2. Rights and Importance of Trade Unions

The manner of establishing, the principles of functioning and the entitlements of the trade unions are regulated in detail in the Act on trade unions. As organizations aim at representing employees and protecting their interests, trade unions are authorized to appear on their behalf, to conduct collective negotiations and to conclude collective labour agreements as well as other agreements to ensure appropriate working conditions. They also oversee whether the labour law is being observed and participate in supervising the rules and regulations of health and safety at work.

The trade unions have, therefore, an influence on establishing the proportions of dividing the national income, the content of legislative decisions concerning labour legislation and social insurance.

3. Types of Representation

Employees can organize themselves into trade unions. A trade union is established under a resolution on its establishment adopted by at least ten persons authorized to establish a trade union. The persons who adopted a resolution on establishing a trade union also adopt the statutes and elect a founding committee composed of between 3 and 7 persons. An established trade union must be registered. Upon its registration, the trade union and its organizational units indicated in the statutes acquire a legal personality.

4. Number of Representatives

The law does not introduce any limitations regarding the number of trade unions functioning in a given company or associating employees of many companies. The only limitation is the requirement to adopt a resolution on establishing a trade union by at least ten authorized persons. An employee can also belong to a few trade unions.

5. Appointment of Representatives

Each trade union is entitled to representation in the scope of collective rights and interests of all employees under the statutory scope of operations. However, in individual employment relations, trade unions represent the rights and interests of their members. Upon a motion of a non-associated employee, the trade union may undertake to defend the employee’s rights and interests against the employer.

6. Tasks and Obligations of Representatives

The Labour Code and the Act on trade unions regulate trade union rights in employment relations. The trade union concludes a collective labour agreement on behalf of employees and defines the terms, which should be reflected in the content of the employment relation and other provisions, including those concerning mutual obligations of the parties to the agreement. Furthermore, the employer is obligated to consult or inform the trade union about all-important decisions concerning employees. This pertains to such issues as the transfer of the workplace onto another employer, an intention to give notice to an employment contract, conditions of telework, agreeing on rules and procedures, taking actions within health and safety at work, among others.

7. Employees’ Representation in Management

Polish labour law does not provide for employees or their representations to participate in managing the employer’s business. The exception is commercializing state entities in which employees retain the right to elect some members of the supervisory board and the management board.

8. Other Types of Employee Representative Bodies

In some cases (e.g., within the procedure of collective dismissals), in the event when there is no trade union at a workplace, the employer must conduct consultations with representatives of the employees. The principles of electing employee representatives are defined at each employer separately. Employers with at least 50 employees can establish a work council. It is up to the employees to establish a work council. The rights of the work council are mostly consultative and advisory.

For more information on these articles or any other issues involving labour and employment matters in Poland, please contact A. Sobczyk & Wspólpracownicy