The key differences in labour law between UK and Poland

April 24, 2024

Contents

Introduction

The United Kingdom and Poland share fundamental principles regarding labour law and workers’ rights. However, beyond these common foundations, there are notable distinctions in how employment relations are regulated in each country.

These differences stem from unique historical trajectories, cultural norms, and socio-economic priorities. Understanding the key distinctions is crucial for businesses operating across borders and individuals seeking employment opportunities in either nation.

This article delves into the main areas where UK and Polish labour laws diverge, providing insights into the respective regulatory frameworks and their implications for employers and employees.

Key Differences

Employment Contracts

  • UK: UK law mandates that employees be provided with a written statement of key employment terms within two months of starting a new job. However, there is no legal requirement for a comprehensive written contract.
  • Poland: Polish labour law stipulates that all employment relationships must be formalised through a written contract before the commencement of work. Verbal agreements are not legally binding.

Working Hours

  • UK: The standard working week in the UK is typically around 37-40 hours, with a legal limit of 48 hours per week on average (unless the employee opts out). Overtime pay rates are not mandated by law but are often specified in employment contracts.
  • Poland: The statutory working week in Poland is 40 hours for full-time employees, with a maximum of 8 hours per day. Overtime is capped at 150 hours per year for each employee, and overtime pay rates are legally mandated (50% higher than regular hourly rates on weekdays and 100% higher on Sundays and public holidays).

Leave Entitlements

  • UK: Full-time employees in the UK are entitled to 5.6 weeks (28 days) of paid annual leave per year, including public holidays. Maternity leave is granted for up to 52 weeks, with statutory pay for 39 weeks.
  • Poland: Polish workers receive at least 20 days of paid annual leave, rising to 26 days after 10 years of employment. Maternity leave is 20 weeks (with options to extend), with paid benefits ranging from 60% to 80% of previous earnings.

Termination of Employment

  • UK: After a two-year qualifying period, employees in the UK gain legal protection against unfair dismissal. Notice periods and severance pay are not mandatory for employers but are commonly included in contracts.
  • Poland: Polish law requires employers to justify terminating employment contracts. Notice periods are legally mandated, ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months, depending on the length of service. Severance pay is also required in certain cases, particularly for longer-tenured employees.

Trade Unions

  • UK: Trade union membership and activities are protected under UK law, with employees having the right to join a union and participate in legitimate industrial action. However, strict rules govern balloting and notification procedures for strikes.
  • Poland: Polish workers are guaranteed the right to form and join trade unions, as well as the right to strike. However, union density and collective bargaining coverage remain low compared to many Western European countries.

Anti-Discrimination Laws

  • UK: The UK has comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation covering nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy/maternity, race, religion/belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
  • Poland: Poland’s Labour Code prohibits discrimination based on gender, age, disability, race, religion, nationality, political beliefs, union membership, and ethnic origin. However, some advocacy groups have argued for stronger enforcement and broader protections.

Convergence and Divergence

While the UK and Poland once shared membership in the European Union, their labour law frameworks have both converged and diverged over time:

  • Convergence: EU directives on working time, parental leave, and anti-discrimination have prompted both countries to align aspects of their labour laws with common European standards.
  • Divergence: Significant differences persist in areas not covered by EU legislation or where member states retain flexibility in implementation. Cultural norms, economic priorities, and political factors have all contributed to the distinct trajectories of UK and Polish labour law.

For instance, the UK has traditionally emphasised flexibility and light-touch regulation in its labour market policies. In contrast, Poland’s approach has tended to favour more stringent protections for workers, reflecting its historical experience with state socialism and the prominent role of trade unions in its democratic transition.

Conclusion

The distinctions between the UK and Poland exemplify how employment relations can be shaped by unique historical, cultural, and economic forces – even within the shared context of EU membership.

As businesses expand across these markets, they must carefully navigate the respective legal landscapes to ensure compliance and foster harmonious labour relations. Similarly, individuals seeking job opportunities in either country would be well-advised to familiarise themselves with the specific rights, obligations, and protections afforded by UK and Polish labour laws.

While the fundamental principles of decent work and fair treatment transcend borders, their practical implementation can vary from one jurisdiction to another. Recognising and respecting these differences is key to fostering a productive, equitable, and legally compliant workforce in the United Kingdom or Poland.

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