Unions organise protest actions against cuts in public sector pay

On 1 October 2009, four sectoral trade unions and the Pensioners’ Party simultaneously launched five protest actions near the parliament and four government ministries. The protests arose due to dissatisfaction with current government policy seeking to match budget revenue with expenditure, which will result in significant salary cuts for public sector employees and a possible reduction in social welfare benefits.

In response to the current economic situation in Lithuania, which is continuing to worsen, the government of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos Vyriausybė, LRV) with a view to realigning the national budget is to impose public sector wage cuts, as well as to reduce the amount of old-age pensions and other social welfare benefits.

Dissatisfied with the policies pursued, various social groups have held a series of protest actions (LT0901019I, LT0907029I). One of the protests was launched on 1 October 2009, comprising five simultaneous actions: representatives of various trade unions picketed near the Ministry of the Interior (Vidaus reikalų ministerija, VRM), the Ministry of Health (Sveikatos apsaugos ministerija, SAM), the Ministry of Education and Science (Švietimo ir mokslo ministerija, ŠMM) and the Ministry of Culture (Kultūros ministerija, KM); at the same time, members of the Pensioners’ Party (Pensininkų partija, PP) protested near the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos Seimas, LRS).

The protesters have warned that such actions will be continued in the future unless their demands are heard by the government. The protesters are to stage a series of strikes and have not ruled out the possibility of a national strike.

Protesters’ demands

Members of PP, who picketed near the parliament building, spoke against efforts to rescue the State Social Insurance Fund Board (Valstybinio socialinio draudimo fondo valdyba, VSDFV) at the expense of pensioners – in other words, they disagreed with the anticipated pension reductions.

Members of the trade union representing police officers, fire fighters and national board guard officers, who protested near VRM, called for the resignation of the Minister of the Interior, Raimundas Palaitis. In particular, they spoke out against unmet promises given by the ministry to trade unions as early as in the spring of 2009; these promises related to reforms in the system of internal affairs, as well as reassurances that they would not cut salaries of the lowest-paid officers.

Representatives of the medical trade unions, who picketed near SAM, protested against the decisions taken by the ministry in the spring of 2009 regarding the duration of working time and leave of medical staff.

Protesting near ŠMM, education workers urged the government to stop the anticipated wage reductions and develop social partnership between the government and trade unions based on agreements. In particular, the protesters expressed their dissatisfaction with the education reforms pursued in the country.

Members of the trade unions picketing near KM protested against reductions in the number of library staff as well as against their diminishing wage levels.

Government response

The protestors picketing near the parliament building and ministries met with government representatives – that is, either the relevant ministers or their substitutes. The government representatives tried to persuade the protesters that their decisions were inevitable and the economic downturn could only be overcome if everyone combined their efforts. The representatives argued that a positive disposition towards sharing the burden of difficulties was necessary in all strata of society.

It should be noted that the government have high expectations regarding a national agreement (LT0908019I), which is planned to be signed in the near future. Consensus with the social partners is expected to be reached in this agreement concerning certain tax and social security issues, thus ensuring social peace within the period of the agreement.

Inga Blaziene, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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