Work becomes increasingly difficult because companies make savings on employment. They dismiss some employees and force the remaining workers to carry out the tasks that were previously carried out by those who have been dismissed. The exploitation of workers is constantly increasing: for every zloty (roughly 24 euro cents) dedicated to the total payroll, a Polish employer obtains the equivalent of 1 z? 71 groszy (41 euro cents), whilst, by comparison, in France the figure is 1.17, 1.18 in Germany and 1.19 in Italy. This certainly does not result from a technological revolution but from the mere fact that Polish companies have managed to force people to work overtime, to put in ever increasing effort, faced with the threat of dismissal, which often leads to exhaustion.
Despite such hard work, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide for one’s family. The cost of living, in particular the price of housing, energy and food, is increasing much faster than salaries. The average salary announced in the media does not apply to 65% of the working population. The net amount of remuneration paid is 1,474 z? (€352.31). This means that for a family of four people in which only one spouse is working, the income per person falls to 368 z? (€88.08), which is lower than the official minimum subsistence level. Yet such families cannot ask for welfare allowances because for that income must be lower than 351 z? (€84) per person. Most workers are no longer in a position to work more, for longer. However, we, thanks to our efforts, are the ones contributing to the economic growth, whilst we are condemned to vegetate.
So why do we tolerate such a situation?
Over the last 20 years, unemployment has remained at a high level; a two figure rate. The existence of such a mass of unemployed people has turned us into a pool of ‘human resources’ that can be mistreated. We are not asking for salary increase because there are always several unemployed people in line waiting for our jobs. Most people have become slaves, working on the ‘free market’. Attempts to create a trade union in a private company end in dismissal. The freedom to create free trade unions, for which workers fought in August 1980, does not exist on paper. The trade union membership rate is among the weakest in the European Union.
The most widespread feeling among workers is the fear of being fired. This is because unemployment benefits have become fiction. Most unemployed people are not entitled to receive them, and those who do receive them can’t even pay their rent. More than two million unemployed people are forced to work illegally if they want to have enough money to buy food. Another million have been compelled to emigrate.
There is no welfare system or effective unemployment insurance, which means that workers are incapable of fighting for better working conditions and pay. Workers are often forced to work for a salary that isn’t sufficient to survive on. As a result, the number of workers in poverty is increasing.
Official propaganda seeks to convince us that, in order to avoid poverty, we just have to work. However, this is not the case. 17% of families have had to borrow in order to make routine purchases. They spend 50% of their income repaying bank loans because salaries are not sufficient enough to pay for rent, food, clothing, school supplies for children, nursery fees, etc. The government explains to us that these are necessary cost for economic growth, for modernisation, but for our neighbours in the Czech Republic, a country which has a similar history and a national income similar to our own; the working poverty rate is only 3%. Czech restaurants are filled with people who work, whilst our central statistics office, the GUS, triumphantly announced that one Polish family out of two is now able to eat out once a year. Two thirds of Polish men and women have no savings. Therefore as soon as there is a loss of employment, illness or an accident in a family, lives fall into ruin. It is enough to miss your rent payment three times to find yourself on the streets. Low salaries and poverty are also the result of the fact that almost one third of people in employment have what we call ‘bin contracts’, which in principle gives no rights to workers and therefore no chance of stabilising their living conditions.
Attempts to create a trade union in a private company end in dismissal. The freedom to create free trade unions, for which workers fought in August 1980, does not exist on paper. The trade union membership rate is among the weakest in the European Union.
The myth of the middle class
Recently, authorities proudly announced that our country was now the sixth largest economy in the European Union. However, according to data issued by the Finance Ministry, tax returns show that out of 25 million tax payers, there are 24 million people who earn less than 3000 z? (€718) net per month. The majority of people with their own businesses do not even earn that. In a country where most people struggle to make ends meet, it is increasingly difficult to sell merchandise and services, particularly when we find ourselves in a situation where we have to compete with large corporations who have been exempt from paying tax by the State. Instead of a developing middle class there is a gap between the majority of the population, steadily becoming poorer, and a handful of privileged and rich people. Furthermore, for most of our children, there is no chance of having a career that leads towards social advancement. The most we can dream for now is finding a job which enables us to earn a living and pay our rent. More and more adults do not dream of having a career, but being able to stand the strain until retirement. Middle class people, in fact, are the ones who have reserves, savings from other sources than the income from their jobs. However, most of us have no savings and most of us who have been able to put something aside only have a few thousand zlotys, more so to pay for our coffins than to deal with the unexpected.
Children are suffering the most
30% of Polish children suffer from poverty and malnutrition. 75% of children live in overcrowded housing, which means that they do not even have a corner where they can learn and do their homework without disturbance. Poland is one of the societies which spends the least on its children in the European Union. Among the 7 million children in Poland, two million are malnourished, much like their parents.
We are working for longer and living less
Deteriorating diet; stress linked to financial difficulty; the lack of holiday; longer working hours; all of the above have stopped the process of increasing the life expectancy of citizens, in particular for the poorest where it is decreasing. On average, residents of the working class neighbourhood Praga in Warsaw live, on average, 16 years less than residents in the rich neighbourhoods of Wilanow and Mokotów.
The right to housing
One of the main causes of the emigration of young people is linked to the inability to be able to earn a living at home. In Poland, it is believed that unsatisfied needs in terms of housing are estimated to be close to 2 million households. Purchasing housing through a developer or a mortgage is impossible because the great majority of the population earns too little. At the same time, maintenance costs are increasing so rapidly that many families are faced with the possibility of being evicted. An illness in the family or the loss of employment leads to, to begin with, late rent payment and ends in eviction. It is becoming difficult to keep housing with only one pension, which happens upon the death of one spouse. Often, some owners buy buildings with their tenants and then throw them out. People lose the flat sold at auction, even for insignificant amounts of debt. Housing is treated as an ordinary commodity. And yet, the right to housing is a basic human right.