The drivers of precarity in Poland: structures, institutions, and social agency

It has been mentioned that the emergence and perpetuation of precarisation can be explained by three groups of factors: (a) socio-structural factors, which refer to the specific variety of capitalism that emerged in Poland after the end of state socialism; (b) institutional factors, which concern, among others, legal regulations of labour market, but also the emergent patterns of expectations among workers regarding issues such as working conditions, career patterns, or job quality; and (c) agential factors which refer to individual and collective responses to precarious working conditions (Hardy, 2015; for an extended discussion see: Mrozowicki, 2019).

Socio-structural factors are conditioned by the semi-peripheral position of Poland in global capitalism, of which one of the important characteristics has been the scarcity of domestic capital. The goal of attracting foreign direct investments (FDIs) by keeping labour costs low, labour market deregulation, employment flexibilisation, lowering corporate income tax and creating investor-friendly Special Economic Zones became an important aspect of economic policies in the 1990s and 2000s (Maciejewska et al., 2016). More recently, the concepts such as a ‘dependent market economy’ (Nolke & Vliegenthart, 2009, p. 672) were used to describe the type of economies whose comparative advantages are ‘based on institutional complementarities between skilled, but cheap labour, the transfer of technological innovations within transnational enterprises, and the provision of capital via foreign direct investment (FDI)'. Rapacki and Czerniak (2019, p. 200) coined the term ‘patchwork capitalism' to depict the model of market economy, which combines three layers: ‘(1) proto-capitalist legacy, (2) socialist legacy, and (3) imprints of diverse models of contemporary Western-type capitalism, with a predominant role of the last layer'.

From this perspective, some aspects ofprecarity, for instance a strong emphasis on the omnipotence of domestic firm owners in labour relations, might reflect the ‘manor' organisational culture (Hryniewicz, 2004) and derive from the ‘protocapitalist' nature of the economic system. Other aspects are direct consequences of the policies of liberalisation, privatisation, and deregulation pursued in Poland and other CEE countries after the end of state socialism, thus deriving from the imitation of neoliberal models of Anglo-Saxon capitalism in the early 1990s. Thus, the final result in terms of the Polish variety of precarity is the mixture of both long-term and medium-/short-term factors. In the labour market, industrial relations, and social security dimensions, the Polish capitalism type is characterised by low labour costs, limited coverage and decentralisation of collective bargaining, and limited social protection of citizens, all of which support the emergence of precarity (Rapacki & Czerniak, 2019, p. 187). On the one hand, low-skilled workers are more exposed to the risk of precarity, as demonstrated by higher unemployment rates among those with primary and vocational education. On the other hand, we observe precarisation also among university graduates, observed also in other developed countries. In Poland, it is additionally fostered by the mismatch between employers' demands for technically skilled workers and the characteristics of the education system. Successive governments promoted general secondary education and tertiary education (often in the fields not requiring significant public investments, such as social science and humanities) and marginalised vocational schools (Jasiecki, 2013, pp. 345-359).

Regarding institutional factors, important drivers of precarisation included successive Labour Law reforms aimed at employment flexibilisation. They included, among other things, (1) the legislation on temporary work agencies (2003) resulting in quick growth in the numbers of temporary agency workers, often employed with civil law contracts, (2) the temporary introduction in 2003-2004 and, later on, as part of anti-crisis legislation in 2009-2011, of the possibility of concluding an unlimited number of temporary contracts, and (3) the extension of the reference periods for calculating working time from 4 to 12 months (first as part of anti-crisis law in 2009 and then permanently in the Labour Code in 2013). Additionally, until 2016, it was possible to extend a temporary employment contract for an unlimited number of years. Temporary employment contracts were connected with shorter termination periods than permanent contracts. In this way, an incentive to overuse this extension of temporary employment had been created for employers to abuse. The emphasis on employment flexibility also reflected Poland's preparation to EU accession and adjusting the country's regulation to the European Employment Strategy.

An additional explanation of the expansion of temporary and civil law contracts in Poland in the 2000s is proposed by Muszynski (2019). He argues that intentional policies aimed at employment flexibilisation mattered less than employers’ strategies aimed at bypassing Labour Law and quickly growing the minimum wage, stiff regulations, and high costs of open-ended employment contracts by turning to civil law contracts. Limited trade union influence and density both at the national level and in the private sector, as well as restricted prerogatives of the State Labour Inspectorate to monitor the compliance of contracts with Labour Law, supported further employment destandardisation in Poland. It can be suggested that the explanations focused on changes in formal institutions (Labour Law) and employers' and workers' adaptive strategies are not mutually exclusive but rather reinforce and supplement each other.

As argued by Muszynski (2019), we can also observe a gradual conversion of the employment contracts regulated by the Labour Code and civil law contracts, in which the latter acquire some properties of the former. However, this is a new situation which results from attempts to re-regulate Polish labour markets started by the late government of the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish People’s Party (PSL) in 2014-2015 and continued after the victory of the Law and Justice (PiS) party in parliamentary elections in 2015. Until 2016, there were clear advantages for the employers to offer workers temporary employment contracts with shortened termination periods. The reforms included, among others, changes to the Labour Code which equalised notice periods for temporary and permanent contracts; established obligatory social security contributions on contracts of mandate; introduced minimum hourly wage for contracts of mandate and the solo self-employed; as well as modified the Trade Union Act to enable the unionisation of civil law workers and the self-employed.

The recent reforms were at least partially driven by workers' collective agency, namely trade union pressure. It combined political coalitions (NSZZ Solidarnosc and PiS), mass media campaigns against ‘junk contracts’ (as civil law contracts were labelled), international pressure at the EU level and in ILO, inter alia regarding the discrimination of workers with temporary employment contracts (Mrozo- wicki & Maciejewska, 2017). However, these recent forms of mobilisation against the precarity co-exist with more general collective passivity and withdrawal of workers. Trade union density in the country stabilised at one of the lowest levels in the EU, 12.9%, in 2019, with great disparity observed between the private sector (4%) and public sector (29%) levels of union membership (Badora, 2019). As argued elsewhere (Mrozowicki & Maciejewska, 2017), the main achievement of trade unions was changing the frames of the discourse on civil law contracts and creating political pressure to re-regulate some dimensions of the labour market. However, this did not translate into lessening the asymmetry between employers and workers in Poland, which laid the basis for precarisation.

At the moment of writing this chapter, marked by historically lowest unemployment rates in Poland after 1989 (3.3% in December 2019), the labour market bargaining power of workers has increased. Yet no sharp decline in temporary contracts and civil law contracts is observed. This might point to a deeper institutional embeddedness of precarity which goes beyond legal regulations and present economic conditions. As argued by Scott, institutions also concern ‘normative rules that introduce a prescriptive, evaluative, and obligatory dimension into social life' (Scott, 2008, p. 54) as well as ‘internalised symbolic representations of the world' (Scott, 2008, p. 57). These normative and cognitive dimensions of institutional reality refer to the emergence of social norms that made precarity a legitimate part of socio-economic reality in Poland, as well as internalisation of such norms as a part of the taken-for-granted reality of society members. On the employers’ side, the aforementioned disrespect to economic and labour law can be mentioned. For instance, in 2010, 46.7% of owners of small and medium enterprises in Poland confirmed that bypassing or even breaking economic legislation can be sometimes justified (Места, 2013, p. 286). On the employees' side, the factors legitimising precarity include the rise of individualistic attitudes and strong belief in meritocratic rules and entrepreneurship among workers in general and younger ones in particular. The ideology of meritocracy makes people believe that their failures are the matter of insufficient efforts rather than structural constraints (Littler, 2018). The ideology of entrepreneurship, in mm, is not limited to the desire to start individual businesses but also concern for the need to "manage one’s life' like a firm, controlling, regulating, and governing the individual self (Lorey, 2015, original emphasis).

While ideologies of meritocracy and entrepreneurship are central to late capitalism, they proved to be particularly successful in the post-socialist world, echoing the "myth of the market' as a remedy for an overregulated socialist economy and the promise of social advancement by individual efforts (Kolarska-Bobinska, 1998). As the result of a strong belief in the advantages of Western and, more precisely, the US type of capitalism, the attitudes such as the expectation of state support or social assistance, were often reduced to the criticised "legacy’ of socialism, or the traits of homo sovieticus, and opposed to self-reliance, resourcefulness, and self-responsibility of modem individuals. On the one hand, as a consequence of long-term socialisation to entrepreneurship and self-reliance, excessive labour market flexibility might not have been necessarily seen as a problem, in particular by younger workers. On the other hand, trade union mobilisation against the ‘junk contracts' in the late 2000s and 2010s as well as general "disenchantment' of neoliberalism, visible in the subsequent (2015 and 2019) victories of the conservative and anti-liberal Law and Justice (PiS) in parliamentary elections, indicate some changes in the social consciousness of Poles, involving more open critique ofpre- carity. In the next part of the chapter, a closer look is taken at the recent research on young precarious workers in Poland to examine the "agential" responses of individual workers to precarisation.

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