Ongoing protests by workers across many sectors

Protests by workers in Latvia have become a recognised and successful way of resolving problems. Successful demonstrations have inspired new protests. Since the beginning of June 2012, employees in a number of fields, including passenger carriers, probation service workers and healthcare workers, have announced their readiness to call a strike. In each case, the threatened action has prompted the government to seek solutions, although the issues haven’t always been resolved.

Passenger carriers threaten strike

On 15 May 2012, the Latvian Passenger Transport Association (LPPA) had asked the government’s Cabinet of Ministers to approve €11.67 million of additional funding by 1 August 2012 to cover uncompensated losses incurred in 2011, and anticipated losses in 2012. In 2012 the state subsidy to public transport providers was 10% less than it was in 2011.

On 7 June 2012, LPPA Chair Peteris Salkazanovs announced that passenger carriers intended to call a strike on 5 July 2012 over falling government subsidies. He said the strike would go ahead if, at its meeting on 12 June 2012, the government voted against compensating passenger carriers for their losses. At the meeting, part of the requested funding was granted when the government approved a €4.41 million subsidy for public transport.

The LPPA’s response was to call off the threatened strike, but the union said it expected negotiations to continue and a solution to be found by 1 August 2012. When this deadline passed without the promise of further funding, the LPPA board said it planned to evaluate what had been achieved during August. If progress was unsatisfactory, some form of protest action would again be considered.

On 17 August 2012, the Government supported amendments to the state budget 2012 which included additional funding for public passenger transportation. It is thought the amendments will be accepted by Parliament.

Probation service workers protest

On 17 July 2012, the Latvian Probation Service Workers’ trade union (LPDA) announced its intention to appeal to Latvia’s Constitutional Court, to organise a workers’ picket and to boycott an athletics event organised by the Ministry of Justice.

The union is unhappy that pre-crisis working conditions for employees of the State Probation Service (VPD) employees have not been restored while salaries in other state institutions have already started to increase. The union says VPD employees:

  • are still on short-time working (28 hours compared to 40 in other institutions);
  • receive lower pay ( the average net salary is €284–355 in the VPD compared to €575 in public administration, defence and the compulsory social security sector);
  • are no longer covered by health insurance as of 2012;
  • receive a smaller bonus when they stand in for colleagues who are on holiday;
  • receive a smaller bonus for working under dangerous conditions (only 1% of their salary, or €2.85–4.27, compared to 25% in other institutions).

The LPDA is preparing an appeal to the Latvian Constitutional Court. After consulting with the European Ombudsman’s Office, the trade union is convinced that in denying health insurance to VPD workers, Parliament is violating Section 91 of the Latvian Constitution, which asserts the principle of equality and forbids discrimination.

Jānis Bordāns, Latvia’s Minister of Justice, promised the VPD a 36-hour working week as of 2013, rising to 40 hours in 2014. The LPDA did not accept this proposal and demanded the full restoration of its working conditions by 2013, as orginally agreed.

Health care workers threaten international action

On 17 July 2012, the the Trade Union of Health and Social Care Employees of Latvia (LVSADA) announced that it would stage an international protest if the government broke its promise to increase funding for health care. The union pointed out that according to the National Development Plan, funding for health care is supposed to amount to 4.5% of GDP by 2013. In reality, health care financing has decreased. In 2012 it was 3.2% of GDP, and in 2011 it was 3.5%.

The union says this level of financing violates the EU principle that inhabitants have the right to accessible and high-quality health care.

The LVSADA is preparing to send a letter to the European Council and EU Parliament asking if gross violations of fundamental rights are compatible with Latvia’s status as the presiding EU state in 2015.

Trade union protests are going ahead despite the Government’s attempts to improve the funding of health care. At its meeting on 5 July 2012, the National Tripartite Cooperation Council (NTSP) supported a plan worked out by the Ministry of Health to link access to planned health care services to the payment of taxes. Amendments to the national budget enabled the government to allocate an additional €27.75 million of funding for health care provision, but not for raising the salaries of health care workers.

The trade union regards the current improvements as insignificant and inadequate.

Social partners’ support

Social partners – employers’ organisations, trade unions, or both – have been instrumental in organising these protests. Solidarity and mutual support between employers’ organisations and trade unions is more often seen in sectors where established representative organisations exist on both sides, and when protest action is organised by trade unions.

Commentary

The popularity and effectiveness of protest actions depends on the ability of sectoral representatives to organise protesters and to justify their demands.

Protests by passenger carriers have always yielded results, but gains by trade unions for health care workers have been more modest. That is partly due to the lack of unity in the health care sector, which is represented by several trade unions.

The LVSADA is the only trade union that has appealed to transnational organisations but has not received the desired support. Previously, the trade union had asked the European Ombudsman’s Office to determine if Latvia’s healthcare financing complied with the EU’s founding principles, but the reply from the Ombudsman’s Office was unsatisfactory.

Raita Karnite, EPC Ltd.

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