Trade Unions

Attorneys of our Polish Law Firm provide comprehensive services on Employment Law in Poland. In particular we advise and represent employers in front of Trade Unions in Poland . Below you might find description and characteristics of Polish Trade Unions Law. Should you have any further questions please feel free to contact our employment lawyers in Poland: [email protected]

  1. Trade Unions in Polish Labour Law
    1. How to establish a trade union?
    2. What is a trade union and who can be a member of it?
    3. Establishing trade union
    4. Employees protected from a layoff
    5. Representativeness
    6. The number of affiliated members
    7. Summary
    8. Contact us

1. Trade Unions in Poland 

1.a. How to establish a trade union?

The establishment of a trade union is not a complicated issue. Regarding to reluctance of employers to workers organisations, it is worth to become acquainted with the regulations that run the trade unions in Poland. It is necessary because even the slightest infringements of law in that field may result in contesting the legality of the union. In this short brochure, we will try to present few essential tips for people who want to establish a trade union, especially in their workplace.

1.b. What is a trade union and who can be a member of it? 

According to Polish Trade Union Act, a trade union is „voluntary, independent and self-governing employee’s organisation, established to represent them and defend their laws, professional and social interest”. It is also independent from the employers, State administration, local government budget establishment and other organisations.

The right to establish and join to trade unions is also granted to workers “regardless of the basis of the employment relationship”, including the members of farming cooperative units and individuals performing work pursuant to an agency agreement, if they are not employees. The right to join the trade unions is also granted to people performing outwork wherein they can join the unions functioning in employer’s workplace. Retirement or disability does not deprive individuals of the right to membership and to join trade unions, moreover unemployed have also the right to join trade unions.

No one can bear negative consequences of being a member of trade unions. However, it does not mean that such situations do not occur, but the individuals have to be aware that such negative consequences infringe the rules of law so they can be challenged through the court proceedings.

1.c. Establishing trade union in Poland 

People who want to establish a trade union have to choose one of the possible forms of actions: they can establish completely new trade union or establish a trade union committee at the already functioning trade union (which articles of association allowed for appointing such committee). Due to the formal issues it is much easier to set up a structure of organisation at the already existing trade union. Most often in such cases all the work is limited to the organisation of founding meeting, the adoption of resolutions concerning the establishing of the trade union, the election of authorities (board and the audit committee) and sending the copies of documents to the appropriate trade union center. More detailed information on the establishment of trade unions may be obtained directly from representatives operating in Poland unions.

Much more complicated is establishing of the trade union, which is not pertain to already existing central union. It follows that the drawing up the articles of association and registration in court is necessary. That activities take a lot of time and in cases of court hostility it also causes a threat of refusal the register union, often for tangential reasons. On the other hand, registration of a trade union at the existing central union do not require to register it at the court and the whole procedure is limited to registration of a new union structure by the panel union membership, which usually takes a few days.

To set up a trade union organisation (independent or as associated committee at the already existing union) consensus of at least 10 people is required. There is a possibility to establish trade union committees, multi-enterprise trade union committees and also environmental committees. The last two options are possible only if the union associates the workers of different workplaces.

Despite of the provisions stated in Trade Union Act of Poland, the members of them are mostly those workers, who performed work on the basis of an employment agreement. It is caused by protection, which is result of the employment agreement. For other forms of work performance, there is only illusory form of protection provided by trade unions.. Thus, in such cases the termination of the agreements concluded with workers who employment is not based on the employment agreement is a simple matter and it is mostly reflected in the lack of renewal of the agreement.

It should be noted that there are no obstacles to affiliate to trade unions for people working on the basis of free-for-task agreements if such agreements meets the characteristics of a employment agreement (40 hours working time with requirement of presence in the workplace). In this case, after formation of a union there is possibility to reclassification of such contracts into a employment agreements, and therefore there are no obstacles to affiliate such people to trade unions.

The trade union which operate in the workplace does not have a duty to disclose the members of its by the name. The only duty of trade union is to quarterly disclose the number of union members in the workplace. Unfortunately, not disclosing the names of the union members has negative consequences, because the employer cannot fulfil its obligation to consult layoffs with the trade union. Therefore, the disclosure of the union members by the name shall be linked with the ambience of the workplace. If the employer accepts the existence of the trade union, the disclosure of members by names will have also the positive effects and it could prevent from the layoff.

The establishment of the trade union structure at the workplace does not mean that it must be immediately disclosed to the employer. If there is a tense situation in the workplace, actions are very often undertaken in secret and the disclosure of such activities to the leadership of the workplace takes place in conflict situations.

It also should be pointed, that according to the new wording of art. 34 §2 Trade Union Act of Poland from November 23rd 2004 appeared the possibility of another than before operation of trade unions. Until November 23rd 2003, the law gave identical rights to the trade union organisation only to such organisation, which affiliates at least 10 members (to appoint the Committee of Trade Union the will to join the association of at least 10 employees of the workplace is required). Currently, there is a requirement which states that at least one of the employees employed in the workplace have to be a member of the multi-enterprise trade union provided that such organisation consist of at least 10 employees, employed by all the employers covered by multi-enterprise trade union activities. Aforementioned organisation has the same rights on site of the workplace (to which its members affiliate) as the casual union committees but without the requirement of having at least 10 members from among employees of the workplace. The new wording of the art. 34 section 2 of the Trade Unions Act of Poland increase the possibility of functioning the trade unions and without a doubt it is worth to take this opportunity. However, it should be pointed that there are separate provisions for enterprise and multi-enterprise trade unions, which specify: the rules of defining the entitlements to benefits ensued from performing the work duties and the rules which protect the employee from the termination or revision of employment agreement, therefore it is worth to consult everything with a lawyer before establishment the multi-enterprise trade union, because the specifics of multi-enterprise trade union is different than trade union committee.

In the next section we will focus on functioning of ordinary trade union committees affiliated at least 10 workers of the workplace.

1.d. Employees protected from a layoff

If the trade union operates in the workplace, it has a possibility to point the employees, which will be legally protected from a layoff. Such employees have to be indicated by the Board of the appropriate trade union in the way of resolution for a specified period of time, which is determine in advance. In addition, after that period they are still protected during the half time of the period pointed in the resolution, but not longer than 1 year.

According to Polish Trade Union Act, the employee is legally protected from the layoff when the employer cannot terminate or revise employment agreement without the permission of the Board of appropriate trade union.

The number of protected employees depends on two issues:

  1. The appropriate structure must meets the requirement of being representative trade union,
  2. The number of affiliated employees in the workplace or the number of people who are in managerial positions in the workplace

1.e. Representativeness of Trade Union in Poland 

Organisation is representative when it belongs to existing central union that is a part of Tripartite Committee or, on the other hand at least 10% of crew of appropriate workplace affiliate in such organisation. Only three trade unions in Poland meet the first requirement: NSZZ Solidarność, OPZZ and Trade Unions Forum. If the trade union do not meet the requirement of representativeness, the only legally protected from a layoff employee may be the person pointed in the resolution by the Board of the trade union (in case on lack of such clause, the entitlement to protection is granted to the Chairman of the trade union by the law).

1.f. The number of affiliated members

If the trade union meets the requirement of representativeness, the number of protected employees depends on the number of affiliated employees in the workplace or the number of people who are in managerial positions in the workplace. According to the Trade Union Act, the conversion of numerical amount of trade union members on the number of protected workers is as follows:

  • If trade union has 10 members, the Board can indicate 1 protected employee
  • If trade union has up to 20 members, the Board can indicate 2 protected employees
  • If trade union has more than 20 members, the Board can indicate 2 protected employees and additionally:
    • 1 employee per each 10 members who are also employees in range 21-50 such members
    • 1 employee per each 20 members who are also employees in range 51-150 of such members
    • 1 employee per each 30 members who are also employees in range 151-300 of such members
    • 1 employee per each 40 members who are also employees in range 301-500 of such members
    • 1 employee per each 50 members who are also employees in range above 500 of such members.

The Board of representative trade union organisation may also choose another method of determining the number of protected employees. It can indicate the number of employees protected appropriate to the number of executives in the workplace. In accordance with Trade Union Act, people who managing individually the workplace and their deputies or people that forming part of collegial management body, as well as other people designated to carry out the employer activities within the scope of the labour law are considered as executives.

1.g. Summary

As it was present above, the establishing of trade union is not so complicated. It does not mean that functioning and running the trade unions is easy. The members of trade unions very often are the victims of breaking the rules of labour law in Poland. The employers use the sluggishness of Polish labour courts and break the law very often especially by terminating the employment agreements with the members of the trade union and also with protected employees. Nowadays in many cases, the establishing of trade union is the last resort for the employees who want to improve their situation.

It does not mean that the trade unions should not be established. Even when we take into consideration the sluggishness of polish judiciary, still the trade union is the one of few effective tools against inhuman working conditions (trade unions very often are winners in labour cases).

1.h. Contact our Employment Law Firm in Poland 

You did not find answer to your questions ? Please feel free to contact our employment lawyers in Poland[email protected]

Expert team leader DKP Legal Alicja Myśluk-Landowska
Contact our expert
Write an inquiry: [email protected]
check full info of team member: Alicja Myśluk-Landowska