Polish trade unions mull call for general strike

By bne IntelliNews May 21, 2013

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Protest against the liberal government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk is mounting as the effects of the crisis continue to hit Poland. With the populist opposition having taken the lead in polls for the first time in years, the country's three largest trade unions met on May 20 to coordinate wide-scale industrial action.

Piotr Duda, Jan Guz and Tadeusz Chwalek, leaders of the Solidarity, OPZZ and the Trade Unions Forum respectively, met to consider calling a coordinated strike in the autumn, reports Polskie Radio. The trio say the action is prompted by government plans to change employment conditions, while they are also demanding a hike in the minimum wage.

The PM's plan to increase flexible working hours and cut overtime payments has brought them together, Duda told the press. "Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government has one undoubted success it can be proud of: uniting the three trade unions," he said, adding that government policies such as raising the retirement age in Poland will lead to the fall of the ruling coalition.

The move comes as support for PM Tusk's Civic Platform is falling, according to opinion polls. Tusk's cabinet has been trying to plough a middle-course through the crisis - attempting to retain tight fiscal management while also looking for ways to stimulate the economy. The depth of the sudden slowdown that appeared around a year ago has surprised, as a soft labour market has depressed the domestic demand that had protected Poland from the worst of the crisis since 2008.

Labour market data released on May 20 revealed that although wages growth outperformed expectations in April, employment fell by a full 1% to add to a jobless rate that stood at 14.3% the previous month, despite the start of the seasonal jobs period. At the same time, analysts at Citigroup express hope that rising wages will help support spending, and could be an early signal that better times are ahead. "We believe that any sign of recovery in the labour market is likely to appear first in wage data," they write, "while employment will bottom out only at a later stage."

The threat of a general strike follows widespread "warning" strike action in the Silesian province, led by the Solidarity trade union in March, which paralysed much of the transport network for a few hours. At the same time, Polish trade union membership is at new lows and is currently estimated at just 10% of the workforce.

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