|The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001. Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date. This site is not updated so external links may no longer function. Contact us with any questions about finding information. |
NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.
TITLE: POLAND HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DATE: FEBRUARY 1995 POLAND Five years after the fall of Communism, Poland is a parliamentary democracy based on a multiparty political system and free and fair elections. The popularly elected President (Lech Walesa) shares power with the Prime Minister, the Council of Ministers, and the bicameral Parliament. The Government, composed of a coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), a successor to the former Communist party, and the Polish Peasant Party, a successor to the United Peasants Party fellow travelers of the Communist era, enjoyed a comfortable majority in both houses of Parliament. Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak of the Peasant Party heads the Government. The Polish armed forces and the internal security apparatus are subject to governmental authority and are under civilian control. The precise division of authority over the military between the President and Prime Minister continued to be the subject of debate in 1994 and will probably be addressed as part of the new constitution being drafted by Parliament. In 1994 Poland's fledgling market economy registered moderate growth (4.5 percent), and its level of exports increased significantly. While unemployment has declined compared to previous years, it still stands at 16 percent, caused in part by the restructuring or closing of large state enterprises. Unemployment has disproportionately affected women and younger and semiskilled workers and brought discontent among Poles who believe that the rapid transition to a market economy has left them worse off than before. The National Assembly (the Sejm and the Senate jointly) formed a constitution-drafting committee, which began its work during 1994. In May the Parliament approved and the President signed a bill permitting citizens to submit drafts for a constitution for consideration. The Solidarity Union submitted such a draft in September, successfully meeting the law's requirement for 500,000 petition signatures. The National Assembly formally began consideration of that draft and others submitted by the President, the Senate, and five political parties in September. There is no legal deadline for completion of work on the new constitution, but the chairman of the drafting committee proposed completing work in early 1995 and submitting a draft to a national referendum in the spring of 1995. In April the Sejm ratified two human rights protocols accompanying the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. One of the protocols calls for respect for property rights, including movable goods, real estate, intellectual property, and securities. The other states that parents have the right to bring up their children in compliance with their own religious and philosophical beliefs. Some infringements on the rights of free speech and assembly continued in 1994. Both the parliamentary opposition and media organizations vigorously opposed a draft law in Parliament that they saw as tending to revive censorship and incorporating too broad an interpretation of those official secrets requiring protection. The lack of opportunity for women in the labor market remains a fact of life, despite some signs of improvement in recent years. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were no reports of politically motivated killings. The trial of the two Communist-era high-ranking secret police officers, Wladislaw Ciaston and Zenon Platek, charged with ordering the 1984 murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, ended in acquittal for lack of evidence. Grzegorz Piotrowski, a former Polish security police captain jailed for the murder of Popieluszko, was released on parole in October. An investigation into the alleged beating to death of two homeless persons by the police, launched in 1993 by the Warsaw prosecutor, was still not complete. b. Disappearance There were no reports of abductions, secret arrests, or clandestine detention by police or official security forces. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment There were no reported incidents of torture, but police allegedly used excessive force while arresting foreigners in incidents at the Warsaw train station in October. Parliament passed a law in August limiting the possibility that a person may be committed to a mental institution against his or her will and outlining specific procedures to be followed in instances of involuntary commitment. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile There were no reports of arbitrary arrest or detention. Polish law allows a 48-hour detention period before authorities are required to bring formal charges, during which detainees are normally denied access to a lawyer. Once a prosecutor presents the legal basis for a formal investigation, the law provides the detainee access to a lawyer. A detainee may be held under "temporary" arrest for up to 3 months and may challenge the legality of his arrest through appeal to the district court. A court may extend this pretrial confinement period every 3 months until the trial date. Bail is available, and human rights organizations reported that most detainees were released on bail pending trial. There is no exile. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial Poland has a three-tier court system, consisting of regional and provincial courts and a Supreme Court which is divided into five divisions--military, civil, criminal, labor, and family. Judges are nominated by the National Judicial Council and appointed by the President. (Judges are appointed to the bench for life and may be reassigned but not dismissed, except by a decision of the National Judicial Council. The judicial branch is independent of the executive branch. The Constitutional Tribunal may offer opinions on legislation but has no authority to impose its decisions. It is elected by the Sejm, which may overrule the Tribunal's findings. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. At the end of a trial, the court renders its decision orally and then has 7 days to prepare a written decision. A defendant has the right to appeal a decision within 14 days of the written decision. Appeals may be made on, among other grounds, the basis of new evidence or procedural irregularities. Criminal cases are tried in regional and provincial courts by a panel consisting of a professional judge and two lay assessors. The seriousness of the offense determines which is the court of first instance. Once formal charges are filed, the defendant is allowed to study the charges and consult with an attorney, who is provided at public expense if necessary. When the defendant is prepared, a trial date is set. Defendants are required to be present during trial and may present evidence and confront witnesses in their own defense. The right to testify is universal. Trials in Poland are normally public. The court, however, reserves the right to close a trial to the public in some circumstances, such as divorce cases, trials in which state secrets may be disclosed, or cases whose content might offend "public morality." The court rarely invokes this prerogative. In March the human rights Ombudsman criticized the Interior Ministry for failing to allow the prosecutors' offices and courts access to evidence classified as a state secret. The Ombudsman described this behavior as obstructing the citizens' right to a fair trial. The trial of former secret police officer Adam Humer was still in progress at year's end. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence The Government does not arbitrarily monitor private mail or telephones. There is no Polish legislation that guarantees the right to privacy, although Poland has signed the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides for that right. Poles do have the legal right to privacy of correspondence, and there was no evidence of violations. The Government introduced draft legislation in Parliament in September which would give the police the power--with the personal approval of the chief prosecutor and the Interior Minister--to monitor private mail and telephone conversations in cases involving serious crimes, drugs, money laundering, or illegal arms sales. The parliamentary opposition sought assurances that these expanded police powers would be subject to appropriate human rights safeguards but generally supported the need to expand the police force's ability to combat crime. Polish law forbids arbitrary forced entry into homes. Search warrants issued by a prosecutor are required in order to enter private residences. In emergency cases when a prosecutor is not immediately available, police may enter a residence with the approval of the local police commander. In the most urgent cases, in which there is not time to consult with the police commander, police may enter a private residence after showing their official identification. There were no reports that Polish police abused search warrant procedures in 1994. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press Although these freedoms are generally provided for in the Constitution, they are subject to some restriction in law and practice. Polish citizens may generally express their opinions publicly and privately. Article 270 of the Penal Code, however, states that anyone who "publicly insults, ridicules, and derides the Polish nation, Polish People's Republic, its political system, or its principal organs is punishable by between 6 months and 8 years of imprisonment." Article 273 imposes a prison term of up to 10 years on a person who commits any of the acts prohibited by Article 270 in print or through the mass media. Speaker of the Sejm Jozef Oleksy called in 1994 for revisions of these sections of the Constitution in order to ensure it complied with the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to freedom of speech. Polish neo-Fascist activist Boleslaw Tejkowski was convicted in October of insulting Polish authorities, the Jewish minority, the Pope, and Polish bishops and received a 1-year suspended sentence. The Penal Code stipulates that offending religious sentiment through public speech is punishable by a fine or a 2-year prison term. An August cover of the popular weekly newsmagazine, Wprost, which showed an image of the Black Madonna and Child in gas masks to protect themselves from environmental pollution, raised a strong reaction among Poland's Catholic community, resulting in several legal complaints and demands from Catholic extremists that the magazine cease publication, prompting the editor to issue an apology. The print media in Poland are uncensored and independent, although they may be subject to prosecution under the Penal Code provisions described above. A proposal by some parliamentarians in June to create a national press council awakened concerns about the possible return of censorship in some form, and the idea was quietly dropped. The Government owns a controlling interest in one major newspaper, which serves as the semiofficial newspaper of record. It does not restrict the establishment of private newspapers. Journals also appear regularly on newsstands. Books expressing a wide range of political and social viewpoints are widely available, as are foreign periodicals. Poles have access to foreign publications and foreign radio broadcasts. The parliamentary opposition expressed strong concern over provisions in a draft law on the protection of state and official secrets presented to the Parliament in September which would make journalists and private citizens liable to prison terms for up to 10 years for disclosure of state secrets, broadly defined to include both military and government economic activity. The opposition contends the law would unduly restrict the public's freedom of information. After a major outcry from the press, consideration of the law was deferred pending approval of a new constitution. Organized crime in Poland's larger cities poses a threat to reporters: a journalist who covered organized crime was attacked in Gdansk during the summer, and in August the cafeteria of the Poznan offices of Gazeta Wyborcza, an influential daily, was bombed after the paper published a series of exposes about organized crime. The National Broadcasting Council (NBC) supervises programming on public television, allocates broadcasting frequencies and licenses, and apportions subscription revenues. The Council may interpret these very broad prerogatives at its discretion. In order to encourage the NBC's apolitical character, the nine NBC members are obliged under the law to suspend any membership in political parties or public associations. However, they were chosen for their political allegiances and nominated by the Sejm, the Senate, and the President following political bargaining, raising serious questions about the independence of broadcasting from government influence. Private broadcasters were concerned that the awarding of licenses for the limited number of broadcast frequencies available could be politically motivated. After the awarding of the first nationwide television license, President Walesa withdrew his support from his three nominees and removed his nominee from the chair. The President's right to intervene was taken to the Constitutional Tribunal, and after a court decision the three remained on the board, and Walesa named one of them chairman. The NBC granted a nationwide concession for a private television network to the Polsat corporation in February; competitors alleged that the decision was legally flawed, and some charged it was taken under undue political influence. In August the Government closed down 6 of 12 stations which the Polonia 1 network operated without authorization (in the absence of a law on broadcasting) since 1992, charging that the stations were operating on frequencies assigned to the military. The foreign owner of Polonia 1, who competed unsuccessfully for the national television concession, claimed the action was politically motivated. Polonia continued to operate six other local television stations, for which it had outstanding concession applications, and to broadcast to Poland via satellite from abroad. The broadcasting law stipulates that programs should not promote activities that are illegal or against Polish state policy, morality, or the common good. The law also requires that all broadcasts "respect the religious feelings of the audiences and in particular respect the Christian system of values." The law does not fully define the term "Christian values." Since the NBC has the ultimate responsibility for supervising the content of programs, these restrictions could be used as a means of censorship. The penalty for violating this provision of the law is up to 50 percent of a broadcaster's annual fee for the transmission frequency, plus the prospect of having the license withdrawn or experiencing difficulty in renewing the license when it expires. In March the Constitutional Tribunal declared that there was no contradiction between broadcasting law regulations, which prescribe respect for the Christian system of values in particular, and regulations concerning the pluralism of the public media and freedom of speech. In its verdict the Tribunal stated that respect for Christian values was not tantamount to their propagation. Observers concluded that the ruling made self-censorship more likely and left publishers and broadcasters with the threat of legal action if any individual feels his or her Christian values have been violated. In June, acting on the request for an opinion by 89 deputies from the SLD, the Constitutional Tribunal confirmed that the requirement that broadcast programs "respect the Christian system of values" was constitutional. The daily news editor of the main state television's evening news program was punished in May with a 1-month suspension from his duties for neglecting to broadcast anything about President Walesa's visit to Estonia. The action was taken after the President's spokesman strongly protested the news program's failure to cover the visit. Academic freedom is respected in Poland. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association Poles may gather together formally and informally to promote nonviolent causes and to protest government policies. Permits are not necessary for public meetings but are required for public demonstrations; demonstration organizers must obtain these permits from local authorities if the demonstration might block a public road. For large demonstrations, organizers are also required to inform the local police of the time and place of their activities and their planned route. Every gathering must have a chairperson who is required to open the demonstration, preside over it, and close it. Major demonstrations of 20,000 to 40,000 protesters, organized by the Solidarity trade union in Warsaw in February and May, took place without incident. In August a group led by Rabbi Avraham Weiss protested without incident the placement of religious symbols and the existence of a Roman Catholic chapel on the grounds of the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Private associations need governmental approval to organize and must register with their district court. The procedure essentially requires the organization to sign a declaration that it will abide by the laws of Poland. In practice, however, the procedure itself is complicated and may be subject to the discretion of the judge in charge. In 1994 the courts denied an application for recognition from the Playboy Foundation, organized to support minorities on the basis of sexual preference, nationality, and ethnicity, on the grounds that the Foundation did not promote Polish national interests. The application, pending at the end of 1993, of the Wehrmacht veterans in Bydgoszcz to form a legal association was approved in 1994. c. Freedom of Religion The Constitution, as amended, provides for freedom of conscience and belief, and citizens enjoy the freedom to practice any religion they choose. Religious groups may organize, select and train personnel, solicit and receive contributions, publish, and engage in consultations without government interference. There are no government restrictions on establishing and maintaining places of worship. More than 95 percent of Poles are Roman Catholic, but Eastern Orthodox, Ukrainian Catholic, and much smaller Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim congregations meet freely. Although the Constitution provides for the separation of church and state, state-run radio broadcasts Catholic mass on Sundays. The Catholic Church is authorized to relicense radio and television stations to operate on frequencies assigned to the Church. It is the only body outside the NBC allowed to do so. Religious education classes continue to be taught in the public schools at public expense. In June the Sejm passed a resolution postponing debate on ratification of the Concordat with the Vatican, signed in 1993, until the completion of work on a new constitution. Critics of the Concordat have called on the Church to guarantee that all church marriages will be registered with civil authorities and to agree not to deny burial to non-Catholics in cemeteries it controls. Although Catholic Church representatives teach the vast majority of religious classes in the schools, parents may request religious instruction in any of the religions legally registered in Poland, including Protestant, Orthodox, and Jewish. Such non-Catholic religious instruction exists in practice, and instructors are paid by the Ministry of Education. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation The Government does not restrict internal or foreign travel. Citizens who have left Poland have no trouble returning. There are no restrictions on emigration. The Government generally cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government Poles have the constitutional right and the ability to change their government. Poland is a multiparty democracy in which all citizens 18 years of age and older have the right to vote and to cast secret ballots. Governmental power is divided between the President and Parliament, which is composed of an upper house (the Senate) and a lower house (the Sejm). The Constitution provides for parliamentary elections at least every 4 years. The President, elected for 5 years, has the right to dissolve Parliament following a vote of no confidence or when Parliament fails to pass a budget, and Parliament may impeach the President. Women comprise some 15 percent of parliamentarians. Of a total of 17 ministries, only 1 is headed by a woman. One of three Vice Marshals of the Sejm is a woman. The electoral law exempts ethnic minority parties from the requirement to win 5 percent of the vote nationwide in order to qualify for seats in individual districts. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights The Helsinki Committee, a major nongovernmental organization, conducted human rights investigations without government interference in 1994. Members of the Committee reported that the Government displays a generally positive and helpful attitude towards human rights investigations. Two governmental organizations monitor human rights in Poland. The Office of the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection (the Ombudsman), established in 1987, is an independent body with broad authority to investigate alleged violations of civil rights and liberties. The Ombudsman has no legislative authority and is sworn to act apolitically. He registers each case that is reported to his office and files grievances, where appropriate, with the relevant government office. The second governmental institution, the Senate Office for Intervention, investigates a wide range of grievances. In addition to responding to grievances, it may also investigate judicial proceedings. Created in 1989, the Office conducts investigations and refers legitimate cases to senators whom the investigator feels will be sympathetic to the grievance, regardless of their district or political affiliation. If a senator does not wish to become involved in the case, the Office presents it to another senator or senators until it finds one willing to pursue the matter. The Office does not release public reports. There are no restrictions on visits by international organizations. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status Discrimination is generally prohibited by the Constitution, with specific clauses providing equal rights to women and religious minorities. Women The Constitution provides for equal rights regardless of sex and accords women equal rights with men in all fields of public, political, economic, social, and cultural life, including equal pay for equal work. In practice, however, women are paid less for equivalent work, on average hold lower level positions, are discharged more quickly, and are less likely to be promoted than men. There are no laws providing legal redress for women subject to such discrimination or to sexual harassment at the workplace. Although women are employed in a broad variety of professions and occupations, and a few women occupy high positions in government and in the private sector, legal barriers, such as clauses in social insurance law limiting child sick care benefits to women only and early retirement for women, encourage discrimination in hiring. Polish law does not address equality in hiring practices (there are no legal penalties for discriminatory hiring practices), and advertisements for jobs frequently indicate a preference according to sex. Women remain banned from working in 90 occupations in 18 fields of industry, health care, forestry, agriculture, and transportation, but unions support the efforts of women to gain entry into these occupations. The rise in unemployment and other social changes accompanying economic reforms and restructuring have hit women harder than men. Recent statistics suggest, however, that the unemployment gap between the sexes may be narrowing as general economic conditions improve. Violence against women continued to be a problem in Poland, with occasional reports in the press of wife beating and spousal rape. Centrum Kobiet, a women's group, commissioned a study which indicated that nearly 20 percent of married Polish women had been struck by their husbands on at least one occasion. Police do intervene in cases of domestic violence, and husbands may be convicted for beating their wives. A first offender is put on probation, while the penalty for a second offense is from 8 to 12 months in prison. Children No special laws exist to ensure the protection of children. Child abuse is rarely reported, and convictions for child abuse are even rarer. There are no procedures in schools to protect children from abuse by teachers; in fact, the teachers' work code guarantees a teacher legal immunity from prosecution for the use of corporal punishment in classrooms. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities According to the leaders of the Roma community, the Roma faced disproportionately high unemployment and were more negatively affected by the current economic changes and reforms than were ethnic Poles. Although the Catholic Church-sponsored school for Roma children in Suwalki has enjoyed limited success, the opening of a local school for Roma in Debica was delayed following an attack by hooligans on a Roma boy in November. As a result of ethnic tensions between Poles and the minority Germans, there was a flurry of skinhead attacks against German motorists in 1992. Six skinheads arrested in Krakow for assaulting German motorists and for the murder of a German truckdriver that year were sentenced at the end of January to prison terms ranging from 3 to 5 years. Religious Minorities Legislation adopted in 1994 placed the Protestant churches in Poland on the same legal footing as Catholic and Orthodox churches. The Protestants now have the same opportunity to claim restitution of property lost during the Communist era and benefit from the same tax reduction as that granted to the Orthodox and Catholic churches. This law covers only church property seized by the People's Republic of Poland and consequently does not address either the issue of private property or Jewish religious property seized during World War II. No violent anti-Semitic incidents were reported in 1994. There are no significant anti-Semitic parties, although there is occasional anti-Semitic rhetoric at political rallies and demonstrations. Both local and international Catholic-Jewish relations remained somewhat strained by the continued presence of a large cross and a chapel at Auschwitz-Birkenau. There were isolated racially motivated incidents, including the painting of a swastika on a church building in Szczeczin. People with Disabilities In 1991 the Government passed a number of laws protecting the rights of people with disabilities. Implementation, however, falls short of the rights set forth in the legislation. Public buildings and transportation are generally not accessible to people with handicaps. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association All workers, including the police and frontier guards, have the legal right to establish and join trade unions of their own choosing, the right to join labor federations and confederations, and the right to affiliate with international labor organizations. Independent labor leaders reported that these rights were largely observed in practice. As few as 10 persons may form a trade union, and 30 may establish a national union. Unions, including interbranch national unions and national interbranch federations, must be registered with the courts. A court decision refusing registration may be appealed to an appeals court. As of September, 223 national unions were registered. The Independent Self-governing Trade Union (NSZZ) Solidarity is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World Confederation of Labor. Solidarity membership has fallen below 2 million (with roughly 80 percent paying dues). Spinoffs from mainstream Solidarity include the Christian Trade Union Solidarity, Solidarity '80, and a militant rival which broke away to form "August '80." Solidarity '80 split into two rival factions in June. There are no reliable estimates of the membership of these unions. Other unions include the All-Poland Trade Union Alliance (OPZZ), the Communist-inspired trade union registered in 1984 as the sole legal alternative to the then-repressed NSZZ Solidarity, the ex-official miners' union, and the teachers' unions (ZNP). The OPZZ claims a membership of 4.5 million, a figure independent observers reject as highly inflated. The Sejm's passage in August of an overhauled collective bargaining law did not require that a trade union be "representative," with its membership figures verified and its finances based on dues-paying members, in order to be considered a legal negotiating partner. As a result, Solidarity continued to boycott some negotiations with the OPZZ on the grounds that the latter's membership figures exaggerated its strength at the bargaining table. There was no resolution in 1994 of the longstanding dispute over Solidarity assets seized during the martial law period and still administered by the OPZZ. In June Solidarity formally protested the lack of progress to the International Labor Organization (ILO). In April the European Trade Union Confederation declined to cooperate with the OPZZ, largely because of the outstanding assets dispute. Polish trade union organizations operate independently of state control and are active in politics. In alliance with the Social Democrats of the Republic of Poland, the OPZZ, the ZNP, and several others maintain a strong, 60-seat presence in the Sejm under the banner of the SLD. The Solidarity trade union has a 11-member caucus in the Senate, while the trade union wing of the Confederation of Independent Poland, Kontra, has 1 deputy in the Sejm. The 1991 Trade Union Act prescribes a lengthy process before a union may call a strike. In August the Government announced it would seek to shorten this process. The law, when strictly adhered to, provides several opportunities for employers to challenge a pending strike, including the threat of legal action. An employer must start negotiations the moment a dispute begins. Negotiations end with either an agreement between the parties or a protocol describing their differences. If negotiations fail, a mandatory mediation process ensues; if mediation fails, the trade union may launch a warning strike for a period of up to 2 hours or seek arbitration of the dispute. Both employers and employees have frequently questioned the impartiality of the mediators. A full-fledged strike may not be launched until 14 days after the dispute is announced (strikes are prohibited entirely in the Office of State Protection, and in units of the police, firefighters, military forces, prison services, and frontier guards). The union may call a strike after approval by a majority of voting workers, announcing it at least 5 days in advance. If the strike is organized in accordance with the law, workers retain their right to social insurance benefits but not pay. If a strike is "organized contrary to the provisions of the law," workers may lose social benefits, and organizers are liable for damages and may face civil charges and fines. Laws prohibiting retribution against strikers are not consistently enforced; the fines imposed as punishment are so minimal that they are not effective sanctions against illegal employer activity. The Government's "strategy for Poland," announced in June, includes a comprehensive attempt to adapt the many existing, outdated laws governing labor activity to the emerging market economy. In August the Government sent a revised labor code to the Sejm, in effect abandoning the landmark February 1993 "Pact on State Enterprises" which had set forth a detailed framework for dealing with labor-related issues and to which the unions, employers, and Government had agreed. In September the Government announced it would send legislation to the Sejm proposing important changes in existing laws governing trade unions, employers, and the resolution of labor disputes. Its aim is to establish the legal framework governing all aspects of work in a market economy and to bring Polish laws into line with ILO conventions and European Union practices. In the interim, legal ambiguities continued, leading to some labor tensions, including a 9-week protest campaign in the spring led by Solidarity and a 48-day strike at the Huta Lucchini steel mill in Warsaw. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The 1991 law on trade unions and the resolution of collective disputes generally created a favorable environment to conduct trade union activity. In August the Government announced its intention to reduce some employer-provided, union-related costs in enterprises with a large number of unions (some as many as 50). Weaknesses in the 1991 law included inadequate sanctions for antiunion discrimination and no explicit prohibition of lockouts. The law also lacked specific provisions to ensure that a union has continued rights of representation when a state firm undergoes privatization, commercialization, bankruptcy, or sale. Labor leaders claimed that this ambiguity led to underrepresentation of unions in the large and growing private sector. There were also a number of confirmed cases in which Solidarity activists were dismissed for labor activity permitted under Polish law, including organizing strikes. Unions, management, and workers' councils currently set wages in ad hoc negotiations at the enterprise level. When collective agreements have been reached at the national or branch level, they have routinely been ignored or overtaken by enterprise-level disputes. Nevertheless, collective bargaining as a system of industrial relations is expected to encompass an ever larger percentage of the work force. By year's end, both unions and employers were preparing themselves for such a relationship. The Government repeatedly stated its intention not to be drawn into labor disputes. The Government continued its effort to link wages to increased productivity and reduce inflationary pressures in the state sector; the so-called neo-popiwek tax penalty was imposed on any firm which increased its average wage in excess of a government-set "coefficient." Both Solidarity and the OPZZ challenged the tax in the Constitutional Court. The law providing for the excess wage tax was due to expire at the end of 1994. Current government policy aims to liberalize investment procedures for both domestic and foreign firms rather than promote special incentive programs. Special duty-free zones exist in or have been contemplated for some 15 to 20 locations throughout Poland but, with the exception of a zone in Poznan and another in Mielec (in southeastern Poland), have not attracted much attention. Thus, traditional export processing zones that relax legal guarantees do not, at this time, comprise a threat to workers' rights to organize. However, collective bargaining either does not exist there or is in its early stages of development. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor Compulsory labor does not exist, although it is not prohibited by law. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The Labor Code forbids the employment of persons under the age of 14. Persons aged 15 to 18 may be employed only if they have completed basic schooling and if the proposed employment constitutes vocational training and is not harmful. The age floor rises to 18 if a particular job might pose a health danger. The Government enforces legal protection of minors, but its inability to monitor the growing private sector, which now accounts for some 60 percent of all employment, leaves officials less certain that the problem does not exist. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work A national minimum wage is negotiated every 3 months by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and the trade unions. Minimum monthly wages for employees of state-owned enterprises were roughly $105 (Zl 2,400,000) at the October 1 exchange rate, which was insufficient to provide a worker and family a decent standard of living. The minimum monthly wage has the force of law, but a significant number of foreign guest workers received less than the minimum, especially in the construction and agricultural sectors. The average gross monthly wage rose to roughly $220 (Zl 5,080,000). Despite several recent annual increases in gross domestic product, real wages declined. There is a standard legal workweek of 42 hours which allows 6- or 7-hour days, including at least one 24-hour rest period. The Legal Code defines minimum conditions for the protection of workers' health and safety. Enforcement is a growing problem because the State Labor Inspectorate is unable to monitor the ever-increasing portion of economic activity that is in private hands and where a growing percentage of accidents take place. In addition, there is a lack of clarity concerning which government or legislative body has the responsibility for enforcing the law. Of the 103,073 cases of work-related accidents that were reported in 1993, 655 involved deaths. This represents 9 accidents per 1,000 workers, a slight upward trend since 1992. The Government itself has noted that work conditions are poor and sanctions minimal. Standards for exposure to chemicals, dust, and noise are routinely exceeded. (###)
[end of document]
to 1994 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.