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HFHR on the draft amendments to the law regulating prison labour

Recent amendments to the regulations will extend the list of situations in which prisoners will be forced to undertake involuntary labour – such is a conclusion arising from the amendment to the Criminal Enforcement Code proposed by the Ministry of Justice. The HFHR has prepared a legal opinion on the planned changes.

Currently, prisoners can provide unpaid work, in principle in two instances – involuntarily for the benefit of the prison or voluntarily for local government bodies. The monthly unpaid working time for a prisoner can not exceed 90 hours. The changes proposed by the Ministry of Justice would add three other instances in which unpaid employment is permissible. A prisoner could be employed on such basis for example by commercial companies wholly owned by the State Treasury or local government bodies.

The draft amendment also modifies the nature of the work carried out by the prisoners. So far, besides cleanup work carried out for the benefit of the prison it was voluntary. “The proposed changes modify the Criminal Enforcement Code in such a way that unpaid work will become involuntary and for refusing to carry it out a prisoner shall be liable to disciplinary action”, said Marcin Wolny, a lawyer working with the HFHR. “Such solution is surprising while so far prisoners were eager to work even if they were not paid”, he adds.

Another problematic issue is that prisoners may be employed by commercial companies which will not have to pay for their work at prison workshops. The new provisions might lead to a situation in which prison workshops will turn into forced labour establishments. “This may raise doubts for example with regards to the European Prison Rules, which give all prisoners the right to receive fair remuneration”, notes Michał Kopczyński, lawyer of the HFHR. “Situation in which prisoners may provide unpaid work for commercial entities must be avoided at all costs”, he adds.

In its opinion, the HFHR critically commented also on the increasing compulsory deductions from prisoners’ remuneration, which are transferred to the Fund for Professional Activation of Prisoners. Such a solution will result in a reduction of the value of the remuneration payable to a prisoner once he has left the prison.  Moreover, this change will also affect third parties. “It will affect victims of crimes and persons entitled to maintenance payments, for whom the remuneration for paid work of prisoners is often the only option for obtaining compensation from perpetrators”, said Marcin Wolny.

Apart from developing an opinion on the changes proposed by the Ministry of Justice, the HFHR also prepared a legal analysis of the work carried out by prisoners. The analysis included proposals for changes in the prisoners’ employment system, which will ensure that this system is aligned with the standards of human rights protection. “We are aware of the need to change the current system. Prisoner work is a positive phenomenon – not only from a prisoner’s point of view but also for the whole society”, says Katarzyna Wiśniewska, a lawyer of the HFHR.

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