Police officers and firefighters demonstrate for more pay

In October 2008, police officers, firefighters and prison guards took part in a demonstration outside the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic, demanding pay rises and payment for overtime work. Overall, about 1,000 demonstrators took part, although the trade unions claimed that about 2,500 workers demonstrated. The Ministry of the Interior claimed that police officers demands were unreasonable, while it considered the firefighters’ demands legitimate.

Firefighters and police officers are demanding an increase in their current earnings by 4% and pay rises for civilian employees. Moreover, firefighters demand to be ranked in a higher category of risk – and thus to receive the corresponding additional payment – than police officers and other members of the security forces.

Trade unions call for demonstration

In support of these demands, on 1 October 2008, police officers, firefighters and prison guards took part in a demonstration outside the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic (Ministerstvo vnitra České republiky, MVČR). The trade unions organising the demonstration included the Trade Union of Firefighters (Odborový svaz hasičů, OSH), the Independent Trade Union of Police Corps in the Czech Republic (Nezávislý odborový svaz policie České republiky, NOS PČR) and the Security Forces Union (Unie bezpečnostních složek).

Pay demands of employees

The trade unions held several negotiations with senior ministry officials and the police presidium. Following a deadlock in the negotiations, police officers joined the demonstration. At present, the average monthly pay for police officers stands at CZK 31,800 (about €1,259 as at 18 November 2008) and for firefighters at CZK 33,000 (€1,306). The trade unions highlight, however, that regional differences in pay exist and that the pay of a large proportion of police officers and firefighters is below the average level. The average pay of police officers widely quoted in the media does not make allowances for overtime worked; therefore, when taking overtime into account, police officers’ average pay is CZK 10,000 (€396) lower. Currently, the average annual overtime worked amounts to 104 hours. The President of OSH, Zdeněk Oberreiter, told Czech Television (Česká televize, ČT): ‘With us, it is not so much pay levels that are a problem: the main problem is that, including overtime, we work 13 months a year.’

Government reaction

The Minister of the Interior, Ivan Langer, reminded police officers that they are getting new cars, new police stations and more money. He thus commented in reference to the demonstrators: ‘Those who want “To Help and Protect” (the new motto of the Czech police (Policie České republiky) should not use blackmail’. In a press release issued for the Czech News Agency (Česká tisková kancelář, ČTK), the minister claimed that the ministry saw no reason for the demonstration, particularly as regards the participation of police officers. He stated that two of the trade unions’ three demands – new pay scales and pay rises – had been resolved at negotiations held on 16 September 2008 and a way to resolve the third demand had apparently been found. The MVČR was willing to continue negotiating with the trade unions, but on no account would it relent to any kind of pressure. Minister Langer stated:

I keep my word. I kept my word, but those who organised today’s demonstration broke their word. I will always do everything I can to ensure that real police officers, who help and protect, get the maximum of what I promised. I regard the firefighters’ demands for this year as legitimate and the ministry will do everything it can to ensure that wages are increased this year.

According to the opposition party, however, the police have good reason to protest. According to the Czech Social Democratic Party (Česká strana sociálně demokratická, ČSSD), the Czech Republic is short of about 5,000 police officers and those currently in the job have to make up for the shortfall. In addition, more police officers may continue to leave the police force for financial reasons.

Commentary

By law, the police, like other members of the armed forces, judges and public prosecutors, are not allowed to go on strike. However, no rule exists to stop them from demonstrating. Police officers on duty therefore did not take part in the demonstration on 1 October; only those on a day off or on leave participated.

Soňa Veverková, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs (RILSA)

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