Unions start strike at Europe’s leading electric bus producer in Poland

Trade unions today began a strike at all plants of Solaris, a Spanish-owned Polish manufacturer of public transport vehicles that is Europe’s largest producer of electric buses.

The protest action is part of a push for 800 zloty (€176) monthly salary rises for all factory workers, and has received support from left-wing MPs. Solaris, however, has accused unions of prematurely breaking off negotiations.

The strike was called by a coalition of unions – including Poland’s largest, Solidarity – following a referendum last week in which 51.7% of those eligible voted, and 92.7% of them backed the protest action.

Negotiations for the pay raise have been ongoing since last September. Union members say that they had been willing to halve their demands to 400 zloty in December and January.

“The company’s authorities rejected our peace offer, which is why it is no longer valid,” said Wojciech Jasiński, chairman of the OPZZ Konfederacja Pracy (Confederation of Labour) union group, reports Business Insider Polska. The union has reverted to its original demand of 800 zloty and launched its strike at 6 a.m. this morning.

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Jasiński added that the company’s rejection of the pay increase, which he claims was “within the company’s budget assumptions”, was a means of “showing the employees their place in the pecking order”.

In response, Solaris – which in 2018 was acquired by Spain’s CAF and the following year became Europe’s largest manufacturer of electric buses – criticised unions for showing only an “apparent willingness to talk” and unilaterally breaking off several stages of negotiations after “only two” meetings.

The company added that all of its workers had already on 14 January seen salaries boosted by 5%, meaning a minimum of 270 zloty, or 340 zloty with bonuses. Moreover, 800 of its workers had received a separate pay rise. Over the past three years, the company has set aside 60 million zloty for wage increases.

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It said in a statement that the protest would only adversely affect the chances of workers securing higher wages: “the strike action may have a negative impact on the operation of the company, which in the future will not only hinder talks about wage increases but may also undermine the stability of jobs.”

Solaris has also downplayed the scale of the protests, saying they are limited to “individuals” in some locations. Its spokesman, Mateusz Figaszewski, told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that production had largely continued across factories, though he admitted there was “large variability” in absenteeism during the first Monday shift.

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The striking workers at the main Solaris factory in Bolechowo, near the western city of Poznań where the firm is headquartered, were joined by Adrian Zandberg and Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk, politicians from The Left (Lewica), which is the third-largest group in Poland’s parliament.

“Big companies like Solaris have record profits. It’s time for them to share with employees,” said Zandberg. “The right to a decent wage is the constitutional right of every worker.”

Dziemianowicz-Bąk accused Solaris of not letting union representatives into the plant. She said that, along with Zandberg, they demanded an “urgent” meeting with the company’s leadership in their capacity as MPs.

Main image credit: OPZZ press materials

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