Why so few Poles have joined trade unions in the UK

Author: Bella Kosmala






Solidarity in Action - Employment rights and the participation of Poles in social dialogue and trade unions in the UK.

What is the situation of Poles in the UK labour market? How do Polish employees perceive and view the working conditions that they have encountered? What is the attitude of Polish workers towards trade unions in the UK? To what extent do they get involved in British trade unions?

These were some of the questions raised at the engaging event at the Polish Embassy in December organised by The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London, the Labour Research Department (UK trade union research institute) and Institute of Public Affairs (Poland) with speakers including:

  • Lionel Fulton from the Labour Research Department (LRD)
  • Dominika Potkańska and Dominik Owczarek, IPA
  • Dr Roch Dunin-Wąsowicz LSE and Dr Michał P. Garapich University of Roehampton.

In the UK, trade union membership is 25% across all industries, but notably only 8.2% of Polish workers living here are members. Compare this to the 11% that are members in Poland and we must ask ourselves, why is it that so few Polish workers join unions?

The difference can in part be explained by the type of industry and jobs that Poles find themselves in the UK. The Labour Research Department has found that Polish workers are in industries and jobs where union density is low– such as manufacturing and elementary occupations. Less Poles work in education and public administration or other professionals roles where union density is higher (ranging from 44% to 50%).

Other factors are cultural in nature. There is a widespread culture of self-reliance (and self-employment) among Poles – “I don’t need anyone, I can find it myself”. There are social factors, such as the fragmentation of advocacy which means it is not just trade unions helping out but independent NGOs and agencies providing advice as well. In addition there are individual factors, such as language skills, which means less Poles get involved politically. Poles may also bring with them polarised and politicised views on trade unions from back home, with the idea of trade unionism being "all about politics". 

To boost numbers of Poles active in Trade Unions Dr Dunin-Wąsowicz and Dr Garapich made recommendations based on their research to work on:

  • Transnational support for trade union partnerships (Polish, EU, British);
  • Stronger engagement with British trade unions as part of Polish diaspora engagement policy (polityka polonijna);
  • Language & rights education programmes for Polish migrants across the UK;
  • Pluralisation of spaces of dissemination – popular culture, youth, arts.

The Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw and the Labour Research Department recently conducted a qualitative study on the employment rights of Polish employees in the UK and their participation in UK trade unions. It will be published at the end of January 2016 and be available in PDF in Polish and English. It will be published on their website www.isp.org.pl.

IPA has also produced a booklet in the Polish language encouraging Poles living in the UK to get involved in UK trade unions. The PDF version can be downloaded on the link above and also from the LRD website here.


Bella Kosmala

About the Author

Bella Kosmala

Bella joined the New Europeans team as the Development officer, with the aim of developing our work with local migrant communities in London.

Bella has a degree in Politics and Anthropology from University of Glasgow and an LLM in International Law from University of Sussex. She began working with migrants through Student Action for Refugees while at university and has since worked with a number of organisations such as Positive Action in Housing, Hackney Migrant Centre, MigrationWork and Migrants' Rights Network. This has given her extensive experience and knowledge of working with migrants on a local community level, as well as broader national level. 

She set up Greenwich Migrant Hub, a weekly drop-in centre for vulnerable migrants and is developing an Integration Awards scheme for local migrant community groups and statutory services. 

View all articles
Bella Kosmala

About the Author

Bella Kosmala

Bella joined the New Europeans team as the Development officer, with the aim of developing our work with local migrant communities in London.

Bella has a degree in Politics and Anthropology from University of Glasgow and an LLM in International Law from University of Sussex. She began working with migrants through Student Action for Refugees while at university and has since worked with a number of organisations such as Positive Action in Housing, Hackney Migrant Centre, MigrationWork and Migrants' Rights Network. This has given her extensive experience and knowledge of working with migrants on a local community level, as well as broader national level. 

She set up Greenwich Migrant Hub, a weekly drop-in centre for vulnerable migrants and is developing an Integration Awards scheme for local migrant community groups and statutory services. 

View all articles
Close

Subscribe to email updates from New Europeans

Join our newsletter to receive the latest news and events from New Europeans.

* indicates required

Or be a part of it!

Join today Donate Volunteer Online Shop