Police officers protest for better pay and conditions

Police officers in Bulgaria are threatening further protest action in March 2009 if negotiations fail with the Ministry of Interior over pay increases, annual bonuses and better work clothes. They have held several meetings since December 2008 and staged protests outside the ministry, receiving support from firefighters and their union. In addition, police officers are dissatisfied with the efforts of the National Police Union and have started procedures to set up a new union.

Police protest activities

Since December 2008, police officers in Bulgaria have held several meetings to discuss how to pursue their demands for a 50% pay increase and improved working conditions. As police officers are by law banned from taking part in strike action and can only take part in protests when off duty, they organised demonstrations in the form of a meeting or silent protest. For the first time, the protest was organised through an internet forum. The first meeting, held on 13 December 2008, was attended by about 3,000 police officers from across Bulgaria who dressed in civilian clothes and gathered in a park near the offices of the Министерство на вътрешните работи (MBP, Ministry of Interior). During the second meeting, on 17 January 2009, the protesters drank water and stood with their hands in their pockets as a form of silent protest. As the Head of the National Police Union (NPU), Emil Rashev, explained: ‘The police do not have the right to go on effective strike when at work’ (BG0508201F).

Trade unions call for support

The Конфедерация на независимите синдикати в България (CITUB, Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria), NPU and the union representing firefighters, the National Ogneboretz Union, called for the protest action and claimed that most of their members took part in the demonstrations. Security police, road police, anti-mafia officers as well as firefighters from across the country, not only from the capital city of Sofia, joined the protest.

The protesting officers highlighted, in particular, their ‘extremely bad working conditions’ and inadequate work uniforms, which they insist are insufficient for the cold winter months.

Main demands

The police officers handed a list of demands to Bulgaria’s Deputy Interior Minister, Sonya Yankulova. The list outlines six key demands, which call on the government to:

  • amend the country’s Ministry of Interior Act (401Kb PDF);
  • amend the Penal Code to provide for quick and uncompromising punishment of those who attack police officers;
  • increase police officers’ wages by 50% and provide more modern technical equipment;
  • provide for better work clothes and food for officers, along with increased fuel consumption quotas for police vehicles.

Government reaction

Bulgaria’s Interior Minister, Mihail Mikov, indicated that he already had sufficient contact with police officers in relation to discussing possible ways for increasing remuneration in line with the results achieved, but not as much contact with the rank in the MBP. Despite his assurances, the 2009 budget for the MBP does not encompass a pay increase.

On 21 January 2009, representatives of the protesting police officers attended a meeting lasting about two hours with Deputy Minister Yankulova to discuss their demands. The subsequent agreement concluded at the meeting of the country’s council for social cooperation provided for pay rises of 5% from 1 January 2009. This is in addition to the 10% wage increase envisaged for administration workers from 1 July. It was also agreed to shorten the delivery time for new work clothes and shoes.

Commentary

The representatives of the protestors have not accepted the MBP’s proposals as it has provided no guarantees for their implementation. Judging by the police forums, it was expected that further protest action would go ahead on 15 March 2009 in front of parliament buildings in Sofia. Moreover, it is anticipated that the protestors will make plans to establish a new trade union.

According to the President of CITUB, Jeliazko Hristov, social dialogue does not take place at the MBP and the problems raised by trade unions are not discussed. Following discussions with CITUB, the Vice-president of the CL Podkrepa (Confederation of Labour ‘Podkrepa’), Dimitar Manolov, indicated that the union would support CITUB in generating support among policymakers for legislative changes concerning the right of association in the system of the MBP. This is an explicit demand, Mr Manolov highlighted, as, under the Ministry of Interior Act (Article 257), public officers may organise themselves to support their rights but are not allowed to join other trade union organisations staging demonstrations outside of the MBP, nor may they accept into their own organisations persons working outside the ministry. Moreover, organisations representing police officers and firefighters may not join or be affiliated to other trade union organisations outside the ministry.

Snezhana Dimitrova, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)

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