Police officers protest against non-payment of social benefits
For several months, Polish police officers have been complaining that they are not receiving overdue social benefits on top of their regular salaries. These benefits comprise a significant part of the take-home pay of the uniformed services. Despite calls from trade unions, the government has not guaranteed payment of the benefits. Thus, a protest was held on 1 December 2009, attended by several thousand police officers and representatives of the European Confederation of Police.
At present, the Polish police force employs 100,000 people. The modernisation and reform of the police force, which occurred in the first weeks of 2007, included plans to bring the police force technologically up to date and aimed to improve the situation of police officers by strengthening the motivational system of remuneration. In effect, throughout 2008, the wages of police officers increased by a small percentage. The following year, however, brought about a significant decline in terms of pay within this occupational group. In fact, the situation deteriorated such that the police trade unions organised a protest on 1 December 2009 engaging around 3,000 police officers, supported by their fellow activists of the European Confederation of Police (EuroCOP).
Failure of talks leads to protest
The protest came as a result of the failure of talks between representatives of the uniformed services trade unions and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration (Minsiterstwo Spraw Wewnętrznych i Administracji, MSWiA). The meeting took place in November 2009 at the request of the uniformed services trade unions. In the course of the talks, the following issues were discussed:
- the growing arrears in payment of benefits and legal obligations to police officers;
- changes in the Pension Act;
- the shifting of resources from the bonus fund to other expenses.
Benefits and legal obligations
Benefits and tax payables are an important part of police officers’ remuneration. These payments include seniority bonuses, rank bonuses, service allowances and uniform allowances. In many cases, these allowances make up some 30% of the monthly salary of a police officer. Meanwhile, since the beginning of 2009, the benefits in question have been paid only in part or have not been paid at all. Until the end of October 2009, the total sum of overdue benefits reached €18 million. Trade unions report that in some regions the payments due have amounted to twice the amount of a police officer’s monthly remuneration.
In the opinion of MSWiA, the arrears result from a badly planned government budget, which had been fixed with too much optimism. The economic recession forced the government to make amendments, with one of the effects being the delay in payment of benefits to police officers.
Pension reform plans
According to the law, police officers may retire after 15 years of service. In the opinion of the present government, this period of service is too short. Therefore, the government has devised a plan to prolong it. Amendments to the Pension Act were originally scheduled to be enforced in 2010, but were subsequently put off until 2011. The proposed amendments are still a source of discontentment among police officers and raise instant objections from the uniformed services’ trade unions.
Reduction of bonus fund
Police officers strongly objected to the shifting of resources from the bonus fund to other expenses, such as reimbursement of transport expenses. This transfer of funds occurred without mandatory consultations with the trade unions. Moreover, the transfer of funds from bonuses to other expenses deprives police officers of an opportunity to obtain additional gratification for their efficiency and extra hours of service.
MSWiA responded that the bonus fund was facultative, not obligatory, and therefore did not need to be paid. The ministry added that ‘sometimes admiration in the eyes of superiors brings more satisfaction than a financial gratification’.
Morale among police officers further deteriorated as a result of the government’s declaration that the police force budget in 2010 would be nonetheless reduced and that it does not look like additional funds will be raised any time soon.
The situation faced by the police force has not been as bad for a long time. Police officers blame the government for failing to provide on many levels. First, they hold the government responsible for the bad planning of the 2009 budget. Secondly, they argue that the government has ignored the voice of the police force trade unions and enforced their decisions unilaterally without consulting the unions. Thus, it appears that social dialogue in the public service can be as alien a notion as in certain areas of the private sector. Ultimately, on 1 December 2009, police officers took to the streets not to serve and protect, but to protest for better pay. According to the organisers of the protest, however, its results were unsatisfying and it did not get a large amount of media coverage. They were promised another meeting with government representatives to discuss matters. Since this offer was insufficient, the trade unions announced other forms of protest action that will take place in the future.
Rafał Towalski, Institute of Public Affairs (ISP)