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Polish unions in mass demonstrations condemning government policy

13 September, 2013IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliated trade unions in Poland are central actors in the national days of protest in Warsaw of 11–14 September. The days of protest were prepared by Poland's three largest trade union confederations: Trade Unions Forum (FZZ), the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ) and the NSZZ “Solidarnosc”.

The three key demands of the mass mobilizations are:

  • Rejection of the government’s labour market policies
  • Pension system reform
  • Higher pay

The protests are expected to be the largest in Poland since 1989.

The three trade unions confederations’ joint demand from the government is for the withdrawal from the Sejm (lower house of Parliament) of a government-led draft legislation on flexible working time. All Polish unions oppose what they call “junk” employment contracts, temporary contracts suited to casual labour that limit employment rights, and also call for a higher minimum wage. Unionists also want more support for certain types of industry and changes to the healthcare system.

They are also protesting against the increase of the retirement age to 67 for both men and women.

Polish Unions do not protest solely on the interests of employees. They want obligatory nationwide referendums on policies once 500,000 signatures have been collected, increased democracy and social policies.

Unions want job security and contracts that guarantee health care and retirement benefits at a time when unemployment is at 13 percent and many companies offer short-term contracts without social security. Unionists say that the Polish work time per week is among the longest in Europe, while average monthly wages are the smallest.  Average wages in Poland are 3,700 zlotys ($1,150) before tax.

The current protest is the result of previous actions of unions. On June 26, FZZ, Solidarity and OPZZ walked out of the Tripartite Commission meeting, which was attended by Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The trade unions demanded the dismissal of Labour Minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and a retraction of the already adopted amendment to the labour code increasing the work time settlement period to one year, which had been sent to the president for signature.

On the first day of the protest, September 11, the unionists picketed outside the buildings of eight ministries: the Treasury, Labour, Transport, Economy, Health, Interior Affairs, Agriculture and Justice. PZZ “KADRA”, Solidarity, ZZG and other IndustriALL member unions picketed the Ministries of Economy.

Later they marched to the parliament building to stage a joint manifestation there. On September 12-13 there debates are being conducted with experts. They will be about the health service, the education system, industrial policy, social policy and the labour market. IndustriALL members oppose the climate policy, precarious work, changes in retirement age and working time.

Organizers estimated some 23,000 attended the mass protest at the start of the four-day demonstration. The protests will culminate on Saturday with some 100,000 people expected to join the demonstration in various locations around the Polish capital.