[Joint statment signed by 38 workplace sections of OZZ Inicjatywa Pracownicza and 6 sections of other trade unions]
Over the past weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed who actually assures our society’s survival. These are logistics, healthcare, and retail workers, as well as employees from other sectors. It is we who keep Poland running. At the same time, management, CEOs, bankers and politicians are self-isolating home. They can do so because basic needs and services are being produced and delivered by an army of workers who more often than not, earn the lowest wages while working in the worst conditions. What more, in the current situation these workers are risking their health and lives. For decades now the elites have diminished the significance of workers to keeping our society functioning. When we demanded social security and higher pay, they told us that’s it’s our responsibility to provide for ourselves. Today, the elites are telling us that we have to keep working to ensure their prosperity. They’re saying that without us, this country will collapse.
Taking advantage of the pandemic, the government passed a set of emergency measures they call the „anti-crisis shield”. The shield aims at making work conditions worse and privileges for business even greater. These measures, implemented by a supposedly socially-oriented government, are no different than the austerity program introduced after the 2008 recession. At that time workers paid for keeping business profits rolling in with increased flexibility of working hours, a higher retirement age, casual employment contracts, outsourcing, wage freeze and extended pay periods. All these changes were supposed be temporary, but they were never rescinded. Were it not for the policy of lowering wages for workers and lowering taxes for the rich, the current situation on the labor market and in healthcare would not be so dramatic. Politicians have no clue about the reality of the shop floor and their actions are only making things worse.
We can’t count on the state or on employers to care about our needs. Government and business executives are already trying to manipulate the unions so as to force their consent to further cuts. The role of unions is not to support austerity politics, but to defend the interests of workers. We need to determine our needs ourselves instead of agreeing to pro-business policies or convincing workers that nothing can be done. Without harnessing union power to counter any further austerity programs, we can certainly expect to spend the next years working without rest and without any perspectives. Who among us has still the strength for another round of years of sacrifices? Taking the government’s anti-worker measures head-on, we propose a plan for a workers’ anti-crisis shield. We believe that if implemented, the following demands will protect workers from the negative effects of the crisis to which the elites are trying to condemn us.
13 demands for a workers’ anti-crisis shield:
1. Shorten the working day to 7 hours without lowering wages in order to limit unemployment.
2. Permanent contracts for all workers. Casual employment, at-will contracts, fixed term contracts, self-employment, temp agency contracts and temporary employment in general makes it impossible for workers to care for their own safety and hygiene at the workplace and forces workers to come to work when they are sick.
3. 3:1 pay ratio. The highest salary cannot be higher than three times the lowest. This will allow for making savings in the payroll fund.
4. All workers must be able to strike. Simplify the collective dispute procedure. To secure this demand, the negotiation phase of the collective dispute procedure must be streamlined and the requirement to hold referendum needs to be nullified.
5. Allow unions to take part in company “crisis management teams”, which set out safety procedures and work organization during crisis, like the current pandemic. At present, unions are often excluded from such crisis teams, leaving all decisions up to management.
6. Suspend indefinitely public funding of businesses that operate in special economic zones. Production sector industries, which received public aid and that reported profits over 100 million PLN in the last year, should assist the underfunded health care system by switching production to respirators and personal protective equipment at the cost of materials.
7. Regular disinfection of workplaces. Workers must not be on-site during disinfection. Disinfection time must be adjusted to the size of the workplace and the amount of workers employed. Workers must receive 100% downtime pay for the time of disinfection. Disinfection must take place every time that infection is discovered at the workplace.
8. Unemployment benefits have to be increased and provided over longer periods of time. All persons in their working age who do not have a job must be allowed the right to receive this benefit.
9. Universal free healthcare for all.
10. Safeguard the solidarity-based pension system and raise the minimum pension. The goal should be a pension system that allows seniors to cover the costs of living so that there is no need to “work on the side because the pension is too small”.
11. A freeze on rents and mortgage payments. Suspend evictions, which thousands of people will face due to the crisis. Mass evictions will only bring us closer to social collapse.
12. Prioritize financing the public health care system in the state budget.
13. Establish a financial support program for the care sector so that it meets the needs of both dependents and their caretakers.
Instead of a “shield” that protects power elites and attacks workers, we demand better working conditions, higher pay and greater social security. The current crisis offers an opportunity to change economic priorities. Instead of increasing profits for the rich, we demand prosperity for everyone.
We call on all workers’ unions both small and large, on federations of unions, industry sections, and informal activist organizations that act for the benefit of working people to mobilize together. We call for solidarity and cooperation in those workplaces where employees are represented by several trade unions. We call for unions to block all attempts at extending pay periods, reducing salaries and implementing group layoffs. Our response to such measures should be entering into collective disputes in order to maintain employment and wage levels. The costs of the current crisis should be covered in the first place from the wealth that workers have produced over the last 10 years with their labor, and which was mostly seized by employers and business owners in the form of profits. Another anti-crisis step should be to reduce wage disparities and to implement the above demands so as to guarantee maintaining society’s purchasing power.
We propose to form inter-union anti-crisis teams on the workplace level, as well as in particular industries and sectors, of both a local and regional nature. As we face current attacks on the elementary social gains of the working world, unions should begin to prepare ourselves for protests, including general strike. In breaking the law and the constitution, the authorities have ceased to represent us. Business is only interested in profits that go to a handful of owners. In crisis, workers’ unions should take responsibility for the country.