Work Foundation Report on Poland Endorsed by Lech Walesa
Authors: Stephen Bevan
09 September 2011
The second half of 2011 sees Poland take on the Presidency of the EU and this week The Work Foundation launched a major report examining the economic, social and labour market consequences of musculoskeletal disorders in the Polish workforce.
The venue was the Economic Forum in the beautiful spa resort of Krynica-Zdrój in southern Poland and my colleague Ksenia Zheltoukhova and I were invited to attend and speak at a special session at the Forum to launch and debate our report with eminent experts including Andrzej Malinowski, President of Employers of Poland, Zbigniew Derdziuk, President of the Social Insurance Institution of Poland, Prof Boleslaw Samolinski, Chairman of the Subcommittee for Priorities in Health Care of the Polish Presidency in the EU, Prof Witold Tlustochowicz, National Consultant for Rheumatology and Krzysztof Landa, President of the Watch Health Care Foundation. Also present were colleagues from CEESTACH who were out local partners in the research.
The report presents detailed data on the prevalence and impact of conditions such as chronic back pain, repetitive strain injury (RSI) and rheumatoid arthritis. We found that the prevalence of MSDs in Poland is high compared with other EU member states. For example, in 2010 over 26 million sick days resulted from MSDs. Over a half of all Polish workers experience muscular pain at work at any one time and are therefore more likely to withdraw from work prematurely, and almost 10 per cent of the working age population are already inactive due to full or partial disability. As a result the employment rate among the working age population at 59.3 per cent is much lower in many European countries. On average, Polish workers withdraw from the labour market earlier than individuals in any other countries in the European Union. It is estimated that, in 2010, the total direct costs of the conditions of musculoskeletal system in Poland added up to €938 million though, when indirect and societal costs are taken into account (including social insurance payments) the total annual costs are close to € 2 billion.
Among our recommendations were proposals to develop a National Plan for MSDs to bring together health policy, active labour market policy and welfare policy to coordinate and monitor action which promotes early intervention, job retention and return to work for people of working age with MSDs. We also recommended a series of measures to prioritise more preventative action in the healthcare system and in workplaces to avoid the high rate of premature withdrawal from the Polish labour market of people with long-term or chronic health conditions.
As with most of the thirty other countries where the Work Foundation has conducted ‘Fit for Work’ research we found that in Poland there is little recognition that Good Work is good for people’s health, that policy and practice should concentrate on the capacity rather than the incapacity of workers with MSDs and that workplace adjustments and graduated return to work are almost always easy and inexpensive options.
A huge highlight of our visit to Poland was the opportunity to meet former President of Poland Lech Walesa. The President very kindly wrote a Foreword to our report and has endorsed its findings. He said of our report:
‘Fit for Work is an initiative to improve the quality of life of active workers. I am glad to learn that in times of economic crisis there are people who are willing to promote new ideas, ready to and capable of fighting for a better future.’
President Waesa also showed his support for our report by attending a dinner in Krakow the evening before the report was launched and I had the honour, as Founding President of the Fit for Work Europe Coalition, to make a speech welcoming the President and thanking him for his support. In addition, the President has agreed to become a Global Ambassador for the Fit for Work initiative and will be addressing the 3rd Annual Fit for Work Summit in Brussels on 19th October.
This high level endorsement of our work, and that of the growing number of Coalition partners, is an indicator of the impact that our research and policy work is having in each of the countries which we have studied and demonstrates that applied research which is able to engage stakeholders who rarely collaborate on issues of strategic importance can make a significant difference to the public conversation about work and its economic and social importance.
The Fit for Work project is now ‘Going Global’ with reports about Australia and New Zealand close to completion and with discussions with Brazil, the USA and several other countries ongoing. This is a flagship initiative for The Work Foundation as we continue our wider mission to promote the health and productivity benefits of Good Work.
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