Public sector unions oppose budget cut proposals

With a view to mitigating the consequences of the economic and financial crisis for the Lithuanian economy, the new cabinet of ministers, which came into office in December 2008, approved a decision to reduce the wage fund for the whole public sector. Trade unions representing public sector employees are opposed to this proposal. They have thus initiated negotiations with the Lithuanian government, threatening protest actions unless their opinion is taken into consideration.

The parliament election of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos Seimas, LRS) in October 2008 was followed by the formation of a new government (Lietuvos Respublikos Vyriausybė, LRV). One of the first steps of the new LRV was the establishment of an anti-crisis plan to support the Lithuanian economy in the global downturn. Among other provisions, the plan provided for the reduction of the wage fund for the whole public sector.

Trade union response to government plan

In response to LRV’s intentions, trade unions representing employees who are paid out of the public sector budget – such as teachers, lecturers, police officers, firefighters, cultural and health professionals, as well as civil servants – held a meeting on 25 November 2008. The trade unions decided to coordinate their actions with a view to prevent the government from resolving economic crisis problems by disadvantaging vulnerable social groups.

According to the trade unions, instead of cutting the wages and funds of public sector institutions, cost-cutting efforts should first of all aim to optimise the functioning of public administration authorities. This means eliminating the duplication of functions and balancing wages within the sector, for example, by reducing the wage gap between the lowest and highest paid employees in the financial services sector. The trade unions, therefore, approached the LRV with an offer to discuss possible measures to overcome the economic crisis. The unions also expressed their willingness for constructive cooperation in looking for alternative opportunities.

On 4 December, representatives of the public sector trade unions held another meeting to discuss the programme of the new LRV. The trade unionists expressed their flat disagreement with the government programme which contains the plan to reduce basic rates that serve as a basis for calculating remuneration. According to the trade unions, this was likely to provoke protest actions on the part of public sector employees.

Trade union statement

The representatives of the trade unions drafted a statement stipulating that the LRV programme contains many conflicting provisions. According to the trade unions, reducing the basic rate will have repercussions not only on wages in the public sector, but also on social guarantees for public sector employees, notably on pensions, benefits and other social allowances. In addition, the statement reads that such a step by the government may ‘rebound with mass employees’ claims in courts and provoke protest actions by the public sector employees’.

Some trade unions have already drawn up their sectoral proposals to the government concerning cost-cutting measures; other trade unions will soon come up with such proposals. It was therefore decided that a “taskforce formed of trade unions will summarise their alternative proposals concerning the anti-crisis plan and invite the LRV to discuss them in the nearest future”, reads the document signed by representatives of 16 trade unions.

Signatories of the statement

The statement was signed by a great number of trade unions representing the country’s public sector employees at national and regional level, including: the Trade Union of Lithuanian Interior Administration (Lietuvos vidaus reikalų sistemos respublikinė profesinė sąjunga), the Trade Union Group of Pre-trial Investigation Institutions of the Republic of Lithuania(Lietuvos Respublikos ikiteisminio tyrimo įstaigų profesinių sąjungų grupė), the Trade Union of Customs Employees (Muitinės darbuotojų profesinė sąjunga), the Trade Union of State Tax Inspection (Valstybinės mokesčių inspekcijos profesinė sąjunga), the Trade Union of Administrative Officials (Prokuratūros profesinė sąjunga), the Trade Union of Public Servants (Lietuvos valstybės tarnautojų profesinė sąjunga), the Trade Union of Lithuanian Healthcare Employees (Lietuvos sveikatos apsaugos darbuotojų profesinė sąjunga), the Alliance of Trade Unions of the Aukštaitija Region of Educational Employees (Aukštaitijos švietimo darbuotojų profesinių sąjungų susivienijimas), the Trade Union of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (Vilniaus Gedimino technikos universiteto profesinė sąjunga), the Trade Union of the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre Employees (Lietuvos muzikos ir teatro akademijos profesinė sąjunga), the Education and Science Trade Union ‘Solidarity’‘ (Švietimo ir mokslo profesinė sąjunga ‘Solidarumas’), the Trade Union of Lithuanian Teachers (Lietuvos mokytojų profesinė sąjunga), the Christian Trade Union of Lithuanian Teachers (Mokytojų krikščioniškoji profesinė sąjunga), the Alliance of Trade Unions of Lithuanian Fire Rescuers (Lietuvos ugniagesių gelbėtojų profesinių sąjungų susivienijimas), the Trade Union of Lithuanian Cultural Employees (Lietuvos kultūros darbuotojų profesinė sąjunga) and the Trade Union of the Vilnius Social Care Centre (Vilniaus miesto socialinės paramos centro profesinė sąjunga).

Inga Blaziene, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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