Trade unions organise national protest to demand action on economic crisis

In mid January 2009, three national trade union organisations in Lithuania called on their members to participate in national protest action. The protesters submitted their demands to the government and parliament to ensure that social and economic policies carried out during the current period of recession are geared towards the most disadvantaged groups of the population. A key trade union concern is to address these challenging issues through social dialogue.

At the end of 2008, the coordination centre of the Lithuanian trade union national centres addressed the Lithuanian President, Valdas Adamkus, leaders of the parliament (Lietuvos Respublikos Seimas, LRS) and the government (Lietuvos Respublikos Vyriausybė, LRV) about the programme of the fifteenth government (509Kb PDF) of the Republic of Lithuania. The trade unions involved included the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (Lietuvos profesinių sąjungų konfederacija, LPSK), the Lithuanian Labour Federation (Lietuvos darbo federacija, LDF) and the Lithuanian Trade Union ‘Solidarity’ (Lietuvos profesinė sąjunga ‘Solidarumas’, LPS ‘Solidarity’).

Trade unions call for dialogue on government programme

In its address, the trade union coordination centre argued that the fifteenth LRV programme was not adequate in light of the current economic and labour market situation, and called for increased social dialogue as a means of dealing with the existing issues (LT0809029I). Furthermore, the trade unions insisted on the following measures:

  • increasing the minimum wage;
  • bringing to a halt an ill-considered tax reform;
  • following the existing obligations of LRV to public sector employees;
  • cancelling the increase in value-added tax (VAT) rates on certain goods;
  • levying taxes on real estate;
  • avoiding any hasty liberalisation of employment relations;
  • adding all social and economic issues to the agenda of the Tripartite Council of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos Trišalė taryba, LRTT).

Lack of response from government leads to protest

As no satisfactory response came from the government, on 16 January 2009, the trade unions called a general protest action in front of the parliament and government buildings under the slogan ‘Stop impoverishment and unemployment, stop disruption of business, stop the “extermination” of sports, press and culture’. According to different sources, the number of protesters varied from 5,000 to 7,000 people.

Although the trade unions advised the participants ‘to stay dignified, serious and quiet, respectful of the neighbourhood, and not to violate each other’s rights and freedoms’, the anticipated peaceful protest action ended in riots and civil unrest. The trade unions dissociated themselves from the rioters and submitted a list of requirements to LRS and LRV.

Demands of trade unions

The trade unions forwarded the following demands to the government, namely to:

  • guarantee unemployment benefits allowing each unemployed individual to survive;
  • avoid education and healthcare reforms requiring individuals with low to moderate income to pay for services;
  • introduce a system of progressive tax rates aiming to reduce social exclusion by asking more wealthy people to contribute to a higher extent to funding public expenditure;
  • levy a property tax on real estate, imposing differentiated tax rates based on the value and purpose of the property;
  • define a clear procedure for indexing the minimum monthly wage and social benefits;
  • ensure the payment of social benefits and pensions free of funds’ transfer to private pension funds from the budget of the State Social Insurance Fund;
  • oblige employers to report to labour exchanges, municipalities and the State Labour Inspectorate (Valstybinė darbo inspekcija, VDI) on the dismissal of all and any employee under any basis set forth in the Labour Code, as well as on the reasons for wage reductions, with a view to controlling mass redundancies and wage cuts during the current economic recession;
  • prevent the liberalisation of labour relations by establishing stricter state control on violations of labour laws, and to bring all social and economic issues for consideration at the LRTT;
  • fulfil obligations assumed by LRV in respect of public sector employees;
  • make the process of setting energy prices more transparent;
  • reduce VAT rates for medicines, medical devices, heating, foodstuffs, books, newspapers and public transport;
  • avoid introducing structural management reforms requiring additional funds;
  • take measures to prevent the eviction of families that have experienced job losses and reductions in earnings, and are thus unable to repay bank loans.

Threat of national strike

According to the trade unions, a national strike will be called in Lithuania unless LRS and LRV take their requirements into consideration.

Inga Blažienė, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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