Collective disputes and trade unions

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When a trade union can’t reach an agreement with an employer, it is possible to warn them that rejecting the union’s proposals will lead to a strike. According to the Act on collective dispute reconciliation, a formal criterion must be met: a date. The union can only set the strike 14 days after announcing the dispute. If there is no trade union in the workplace, another organization can represent the workers. 

Every employer can enter the dispute by himself. Still, there is also an option to be represented by an employer’s organization. Trade unions represent the workers. There may be more than one trade union in the workplace – in that case, each can express the interest of different workers. Moreover, if the organizations reach an agreement, they can form a joint trade union representation.

What can be a collective dispute about?

The collective dispute may relate to, i.e. working conditions, social benefits or salaries. In every case, it is about workers’ interests and rights. The workers can fight for their union liberties as well. 

In disputes related to working conditions, issues like work time, occupational health and safety or leaves are usually at stake. 

The wage conflicts are not only about payment rules but also other benefits. Workers can demand to change or establish rules for acquiring pensions and pension benefits; to set the conditions of getting additional parts of the salary. 

Types of collective disputes

The Act on collective disputes resolution distinguishes two types of conflicts:

  • inner-workplace – one employer can handle the scope of the issues
  •  multi-workplace – is addressed to more than a one employer

The procedures in each case are different. The workers need to comply with them.

Stages of collective dispute

  1. The trade union decides to launch a collective dispute and its topic, e.g. salaries.
  2.  The employer must inform a regional labour inspectorate about the dispute. Trade unions and employers get to sit at the negotiation table together to see if they can make a deal. If the negotiations are successful, the parties sign a collective agreement. 
  3.  If the employer doesn’t take a position towards a dispute, it rejects the demands. In that case, both parties appoint an impartial mediator that enters the mediation procedure. If the mediation doesn’t yield results, a trade union can organize a warning strike (yet for up to two hours). 
  4.  The last stage of a collective dispute is a strike. Before going for it, a trade union is obliged to conduct a referendum. A strike is the last resort meant to appeal to the employer and go on with the negotiations. The workers join the strike voluntarily – no one can make them do so. 

Time and length of collective disputes

A collective dispute starts when the employer rejects the workers’ demands or only fulfills some of them in a period given by the trade union (no shorter than three days). The employer must report the collective dispute to the appropriate branch of the National Labour Inspectorate. After that, the negotiations start. 

If an employer accepts the demands, there is no collective dispute. The agreement is not only reached in negotiations – Social Arbitration Committee (Kolegium Arbitrażu Społecznego) can decide on it. The latter is valid only if both parties agree to it.

When is the strike not allowed? 

According to Art. 19 of the Act on collective dispute resolutions, it is not allowed to stop work on positions, machines and installations that would, in that case, harm people’s safety or life or would affect the state’s security. 

Who can’t strike?

The workers of government bodies, central and local administration, courts, and prosecutors don’t have a right to strike. Organizing a strike is illegal in uniformed armed services, such as the police.

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