Brief Description of Employees’ and Employers’ Associations
The essence of the freedom to associate results in an unrestricted possibility to establish trade unions and employers’ organisations and to join such organisations. 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’ organisations. The special character of trade unions and employers’ organisations results from the fact that they have the right to negotiate and to conclude collective labour agreements and other settlement agreements.
Trade unions are social organisations that associate working people, which includes not only employees but also certain categories of contractors (however, in practice, contractors rarely form or join trade unions). They are a voluntary form of self-organising that operate on the basis of statutorily shaped organisational structures, which have a legal personality. Trade unions represent employees and protect their dignity, rights and material and moral interests, both collective and individual. They also have a right to represent employees’ interests internationally. Trade unions co-participate in creating advantageous conditions for work, life and rest.
Employers’ associations on the other hand, are corporate organisations that have the status of a legal person based on the collectiveness of their members. Such organisations protect the employer’s rights and interests in employment relations. Therefore, they aim at protecting business, financial, economic as well as organisational and functional interests. All employers are entitled to the freedom to form an employer association.
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 organisations aimed at representing employees and protecting their interests, trade unions are authorised 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. They are also authorised to issue opinions regarding labour law development. Trade unions may conduct economic activities; however, the income therefrom should be used for statutory tasks and cannot be divided among the members.
As a result, trade unions may exercise considerable influence over the distribution of the national income and the content of legislative decisions concerning labour legislation and social insurance. Trade unions ensure that the employer complies and appropriately implements the labour legislation. They also play a critical role in shaping policies on working conditions.
In the scope of individual labour law, the authorisations of the trade unions pertain to issuing opinions on notices to employment contracts, and terminating an employment contract without notice. The trade unions have this entitlement as regards to their members and employees who have turned to trade unions to represent their interests.
Types of Representation
Employees can organise themselves into trade unions. A trade union is established under a resolution on its establishment, adopted by at least ten persons authorised 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 three and seven persons. An established trade union must be registered. Upon its registration, the trade union and its organisational units indicated in the statutes, acquire a legal personality.
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 authorised persons. An employee can also belong to more than one trade union.
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.
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 its employees. This pertains to such issues as the transfer of the workplace to another employer, an intention to give notice to an employment contract, remote work conditions, agreeing on rules and procedures and taking actions within health and safety at work, among others.
Employees’ Representation in Management
Polish labour law does not provide for employees or their representatives to participate in managing the employer’s business, with the exception of commercialising state entities in which employees retain the right to elect some members of the supervisory board and the management board.
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 works council. It is up to the employees to demand the establishment of a works council, after being informed of passing the 50-employee threshold by the employer. The rights of the works council are mostly consultative and advisory.