On June 13, the Polish government ammended the Labor Code and essentially did away with the guaranteed 8-hour day. There are several changes that were made to accomplish this, through helping the bosses to impose ”flexible working hours”. Firstly, the accounting periods for overtime were changed. Overtime is now calculated on a yearly basis. What this means is that bosses can make you work a lot of extra hours some times, then cut your hours at other times. Secondly, in the past, your working hours were set and you were guaranteed sufficient hours between shifts. If there were not sufficient hours, you could claim overtime. Now the bosses can change your working hours “according to their need”. Finally, unions can agree or disagree to changes in working hours, only the government also gave the right to “workers' councils”, and to individual workers. Workers' councils in general are bosses'' tools and often the “workers' representative to this council was put without any election, just by the bosses. If a union does not agree, the workers' council can agree it. Also, any worker can “accept” the ''flexible hours'' regardless of any collective agreement of a union.
As one can understand, the last fact mean that bosses, when hiring new workers, can pressure them to agree to this, even if the unionized members of the workplace do not agree. So it is a serious blow to the unions' ability to control conditions in the workplace.
This does not mean that all workers will lose the 40-hour week, although working 40 hours in Poland has long since stop being the norm. This is because of the high use of civil contracts instead of employment contracts and forced overtime – two things that everybody knows about, which are against the labor code, but nobody does anything about. This is all ignored in order to keep the economy “competitive” and the capitalists happy.
However, some categories of workers will undoubtably be effected and will be forced into very hard and uncertain working conditions. This is especially true in areas like manufacturing.
No Wage Guarantee Means Lower Salaries
One of the worst aspects of the changes is that if an employer gets somebody to do 12 months of work in, for example, a 9-month period, the 3 months when the employee is not at work can be paid for differently! During that time, an employer is only obliged to pay minimum wages! So, for the same amount of hours, the employee's salary can be significantly lower over the year.
The Mainstream Unions
The mainstream unions are all against but have done frightfully little about it. It is something of a symbolic opposition. There was not even any large central demonstrations. In one union (Solidarity), the rank and file even voted for a nationwide national strike, but the decisions are made by the union bureaucrats, who mobilize people at the will, or not, usually in order to fit the timing of election campaigns. We all know that one-day strikes will not bring this system down, but Poland has not had a one-day national general strike since the economic transformation – so in almost 25 years. So for years we have been calling on the rank and file to push for a general strike, despite the attitude of their union bosses.
Now we call on the rank and file to protest, to join with us or make their own protests, but to break the complicity of their unions and take some action. However few people have ever moved without the go-ahead of their union overseers, who often warn the workers against having anything to do with us radicals. In the past we sometimes managed to find people, but the labor movement is in a time of unprecedented retreat.
On June 20, we planned to make an action against new proposals concerning unemployed people. Many of the unemployed people in Poland are not accounted for, having been crossed off the list for different reasons. A new proposal would mean that the first time any unemployed person refuses a job off, s/he would be crossed off the unemployment list for a period of 9 months. Not only would this person lose all benefits, but the government also wants such people to lose their health insurance. So this is a great opportunity for bosses to find lots of minimum wage workers, as refusal would be very costly. There is also no requirement that the jobs offered have to be full-time or in your city!
We are still making this action, but expanding it due to the latest attacks on the working class. On the days after there are also protests and other actions planned around Poland.