Latvia: Union's pact with political party comes under fire
A heated debate has broken out over a union’s decision to sign a cooperation agreement with a left-wing, pro-Russia political party.
The Latvian Union of Health and Social Care Employees (LVSADA) concluded a cooperation agreement (in Latvian) with the centre-left Saskaņa party in January 2015. Not all the union’s branches were in favour of this move, but when the matter was discussed at the union's executive council level, 22 of the 38 representatives who were present voted for the agreement. The vote has been criticised by Latvian TV, which pointed out that the plan's supporters are a minority of the council's 65 members.
When TV programme 'De facto' said that LVSADA’s decision was not good practice, the union's leader demanded a retraction from the journalists responsible (in Latvian).
The union’s decision came a few weeks after the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS) concluded a cooperation agreement with Saskaņa. In March LBAS’ decision was also criticised (in Latvian, 1.28 MB PDF) by its members.
The terms of the agreement between LVSADA and Saskaņa are private, but it has been discussed in the media (in Latvian). It appears that politicians have agreed to abide by the union’s request that, until 2020, at least 5% of GDP will be spent on the health care sector. The two sides will also cooperate on general issues, with politicians arguing that closer ties with the union help them to identify better the needs of health care sector and to promote its financing.
However, the media has continued to react negatively to the move. It has criticised the protest organised by LVSADA against austerity cuts to health care in Latvia on 20 April, when EU health care ministers came to Riga to meet under the auspices of Latvia’s Presidency of the EU Council. LVSADA had to put special announcements in the press to say the action had no political motive. However, it was reported that representatives of Saskaņa also planned to take part in the protest (in Latvian).
Several hundred people, including health care workers and members of LVSADA, attended the protest despite a lack of public support. But the action was supported by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) and reported on its homepage.