Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 21
15 November 1999

Last Week in Poland C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
Last Week in Poland
News from Poland since 6 November 1999

Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska
and Donosy-English

The tax reform saga continues. Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz has given an ultimatum saying that he will quit the government unless the disputed tax reforms are approved this month. Earlier this week, not enough deputies of the Lower House of Parliament showed up in the chamber - thus there was no quorum - to vote on the opposition's proposal to reject the tax reforms proposed by the Solidarity Election Action-Freedom Union (AWS-UW) coalition. The delay raises serious questions as to the government's ability to meet deadlines for approving the revised tax system for next year. Lower House Speaker Maciej Plazynski observed that "it's still possible, although very difficult." He went on to attribute the snag to a lack of discipline among the ruling coalition.

One may wonder whether this was not effectively some kind of ploy, as an agreement was finally reached at the last moment. The ruling coalition finally agreed on a tax bill and President Aleksander Kwasniewski has pledged not to slow down the legislation process. But this still does not guarantee that the government will be able to meet the end-of-November deadline.

Troubles in the mines yet again, as strikers from Siersza, who have been out on strike for almost two weeks now, rebuffed Economic Minister Janusz Steinhoff's request to call off the action. Last Saturday, 30 miners went on hunger strike, while a further nine are still occupying Vistula Coal Company (NSW) headquarters in Tychy. NSW, which runs the Siersza mine, has stated that the mine must close despite opposition, due to the poor quality of coal the mine produces. Steinhoff also supports the government's decision to liquidate the mine as the only reasonable solution. He did, however, try to assure miners that the redundant miners will be assisted in finding new jobs at other mines or elsewhere. Miroslaw Chrzaszcz, protest spokesman and member of the Social Committee for the Mine's Restoration, stated that the only option which will be entertained is privatisation. The miners want to buy the mine from the ministry for the token sum of 1 zloty and turn it into a private enterprise. Steinhoff plans to meet with the miners, but the Ministry's plans exclude the establishment of creating a holding company to manage the mine.

The unions are apparently getting it from all sides these days, as Polish State Railways (PKP) is demanding compensation for its estimated USD 1.25 million losses from Solidarity. Miners belonging to the union stopped train traffic by blocking two major rail junctions in Silesia on 21 and 22 October which caused the substantial losses for the cash-strapped PKP. The Railways' insistence on holding the union responsible by launching legal action has several reasons and implications. PKP's sheer stubbornness is a result of its financial situation, but it has also already received assurances from several of the unions which operate within it that they will co-perate fully with management on the matter. The wider implication seems to be part of a broader trend to chink away at the power of unions in Poland. The PKP's grumbling coincides with a lawsuit which has been filed by the Ministry of Finance against the organiser of a blockade of the Ministry's building back in May. Both these cases - if successful - will set an important precedent which can not help but alter the relationship between management and unions. So far, no such cases have been successful, often with court cases turning into farces, which has created the impression that unions and protesters are getting away with too much. On the other hand, it is also well known that the unions actually have limited resources and reserves and are not insured against civil liability. In other words, losing these suits would effectively break the unions.

Shocking revelations courtesy of The Warsaw Voice - women are discriminated against in Poland. This hardly comes as a surprise to any woman who has spent any amount of time in Poland, but the recent study has simply made it official. Stanislawa Kocot, of the National Labour Office, has found that although employers will never admit to discriminating against women during the hiring process, they rarely ask men about their familial status during interviews. Kocot asserts that job advertisements "confirm there is discrimination in the job market." She adds that "employers often pose requirements concerning the gender and age of potential employees." The proportion of unemployed women is also rising, despite women being generally better educated - frequently with better language and computer skills - than their male counterparts. That between 1990 and 1994 more than half of day-care centres and 25 per cent of nurseries were closed certainly did not help the work-place efficiency of women with families - because guess who is still overwhelmingly the primary care-giver. The closing of child-care facilities has continued over the past few years, though in a less dramatic manner. Women are seeking longer maternity leaves to deal with the situation but, as a recent debate in the Sejm illustrated, this may in the end harm women's employment opportunities. Professor Adam Kurzynowski of the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH) and author of the poll commissioned by the National Labour Office, agrees that it is rather alarming that women make up 60 per cent of the unemployed, often remaining unemployed for a year or more. Kurzynowski's poll revealed that between 28 and 35 per cent of unemployed women have secondary or university education. He states that "this is a clear waste of serious potential." It is all the more alarming since women's unemployment is growing during a period of generally dynamic economic development, and unemployed women are generally between the ages of 25-34, supporting the thesis that women of child-rearing age are being targeted.

If a woman is fortunate enough to get a job after all these trials, then she can still expect to get paid about 70 per cent of what her male counterpart would get - according to a UN study released last year. The way out seems to be taking up the option of self-employment. According Ewa Lisowska of the SGH who co-authored the Women on the Job Market study, more and more womenare going into business for themselves. "Compared to 1985, the number of women running their own business has grown four times, while the overall average was three," said Lisowska.

Poland's Supreme Court ruled that the long-dragging trial of Poland's last Communist president, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, along with that of several other top Communists, should finally resume. The case is going on year three now - and apparently not going anywhere fast, though the Supreme Court confidently stated that "this will serve justice." Jaruzelski, now 76, was excluded on the grounds of ill-health when the trial finally opened in Gdansk in mid-1998, after two years of preliminaries. Jaruzelski is currently in a Warsaw hospital and unavailable for comment. Jaruzelski, who avoided any repercussions for his 1981 introduction of martial law, is being accused of responsibility for the deaths of 44 protesters in December of 1970 in Gdansk, while he was defense minister.

On a lighter note - the government has sent new copyright legislation to Parliament for approval. The new law - long demanded by the EU and other international bodies - will allow for the criminal prosecution of those who break intellectual property laws as well as extending the current copyright protection period. As it stands, copyright infringements are only subject to civil suits - hardly a deterrent to the booming pirate industry. Despite recent raids on Dziesieciolecia Stadium, Europe's biggest open-air market and a haven for knock-offs, by customs officials and police, more than 40 per cent of CDs and tapes on the Polish market are pirated. 1992 revisions to the copyright law and increasing international pressure have so far not alleviated the situation. Ewa Lepkowska, the lawyer who represented the Association of Authors and Composers (ZAIKS), stated that "after the new proposals become a law, prosecuting pirates will become easier, and the punishment more severe." The maximum jail sentence would be increased from three to five years.

Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 12 November 1999


Gazeta Wyborcza

Prawo i Gospodarka

Zycie Warszawy


Polska Agencja Prasowa

Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with the kind permission of Donosy-English:
Donosy-Polish Editors: Lena Bialkowska (Editor-in-Chief), Michal Jankowski, Michal Pawlak, Ksawery Stojda (founder)
Copyright (c) 1999
Donosy-English editors and translators: Lidia Trojanowska and Lawrence Schofer
Circulation: Wojtek Bogusz
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