Trade union hunger strike averts public sector pay cut

The effects of the global economic crisis are increasingly being felt in Lithuania. To cope with its impact, the government announced that it was going to reduce the basic monthly salary of public sector employees to help lessen state budget expenditure. Dissatisfied with such a decision, the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation initiated a hunger strike initiative, which was stopped a day later when the government promised to find other ways of reducing state spending.

Government attempts to reduce public sector pay

In order to cope with the growing impact of the global economic crisis in Lithuania, the government of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos Vyriausybė, LRV) announced that it was planning to increase taxes and reduce state expenditure in order to balance the budget. Without consulting the trade unions, the government decided on 17 June 2009 to cut the basic monthly salary in the public sector. The basic monthly salary is applied as a reference to determine the salaries of public sector employees such as tutors, social workers, librarians and cultural workers. The basic weekly salary was to be reduced accordingly from LTL 128 (about €37 as at 30 July 2009) to LTL 115 (€33). The pay cut was due to enter into force on 1 August and would have affected about 230,000 public sector employees, most of whom are already relatively low paid.

Trade unions oppose pay cut

Dissatisfied with the government’s decision, the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation (Lietuvos profesinių sąjungų konfederacija, LPSK) adopted on 19 June a ‘Declaration regarding inconsiderate and unreasoned policy implemented by LRV’. Among other things, the statement declared that:

LPSK emphatically disagrees with inconsiderate and unreasoned proposals worsening the conditions, which are already invidious, for ordinary employees and retired people during this difficult period. We demand that all social and economic issues be solved through social dialogue. If the abovementioned solutions are adopted in a one-sided approach, LPSK notifies the government of Lithuania that it may use its right to organise protest actions as stipulated in the law.

Hunger strike ceases after one day

As the government ignored LPSK’s warning, the trade union confederation decided to launch a hunger strike initiative on 2 July at Independence Square in front of the parliament buildings. During the hunger strike, a meeting was held between the government and the trade unions’ working group which ended in a number of joint decisions. The government and LPSK agreed that, while a cut in public sector salaries was unavoidable, the largest burden must be assumed by the highest paid public sector employees. In the end, it was agreed with the trade union representatives that the government would cancel its decision to reduce the basic monthly salary with effect from 3 July. In addition, it was planned to proceed with negotiations between the government and trade unions on the possibility to reduce the basic monthly salary at a future stage.

Taking into account the government’s promise, LPSK stopped the hunger strike action on 3 July. In its turn, the government submitted alternative proposals to the parliament of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublikos Seimas, LRS) on how to reduce state spending. The proposals were accepted by the LRS on 16 July. As promised, the main burden of the salary decrease was placed on the highest paid public sector employees, including lawyers and state officers. Pay rises for civil servant qualification grades are being cut on a temporary basis from 1 August 2009 to 31 December 2010: more specifically, by 10%–15% for the third (lowest) qualification rating and by 30%–50% for the first (highest) qualification rating. Officers of the country’s Special Investigation Service (Specialiųjų Tyrimų Tarnyba, STT), the State Security Department (Valstybės Saugumo Departamentas, VSD) and other civil servants have also been subject to similar changes.

Inga Blaziene, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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