ZAGREB, November 19, 2018 – Leaders of public sector workers said on Monday that public sector workers would launch a strike on November 28 and hold it on one day of every subsequent week until their demands for higher wages were met.
Croatian Teachers Union president Sanja Šprem told a news conference the strike announcement was a message to the government after talks between public sector workers and the government on a pay rise failed. “The government’s offer was unfavourable, the government did not accept the arguments that public sector workers are underpaid and that their salaries should not lag behind the national average. The government’s offer of a three-percent rise in the base pay in 2019 is humiliating and clearly shows that the government does not appreciate employees in public services,” Šprem said.
She said that the strike would start on November 28 and continue on December 4 and 13 and be held every week for a day until the unions’ demands were met. She also said that public sector unions had launched a nation-wide campaign for a base pay rise and better status of public sector employees, noting that strike was not the only instrument of pressure against the government.
The leader of the Independent Union of High School Employees, Branimir Mihalinec, said that the national campaign for better services for citizens and a better status for public sector employees would last until a wage policy for public services was defined in talks with the government. He said that unions today also announced a process of conciliation with the government.
Mihalinec said that unions would inform employers on time how long the strike would last on a specific day because it could last the whole day or less. He said that public sector unions wanted a wage increase of 5.8%, which is how much wages in the country are projected to grow next year.
Social Care Professionals Union head Jadranka Dimić said that wages were not the only reason for the strike but that it was also the fact that citizens, who during their working life pay high contributions for healthcare, social care and education, need quality services.
She warned that the government was saving on the employment of doctors, teachers, social workers and others, and noted that before a ban on public sector hiring, the social care system had 8,800 employees while now there were 1,727.
“The government is offering our members a three-percent pay rise, and that’s only crumbs left over in the budget. By treating public sector workers that way the government is actually telling citizens that it does not care who will treat them or care about them, what kind of education their children will get or who will care for the country’s cultural heritage. The three-percent offer is 150-200 kuna and that amount will not prevent young and educated people from leaving the system,” Dimić said, criticising the proposal by the Croatian Employers Association (HUP) that a part of government employees should be transferred to the public sector.
As for HUP’s proposal that surplus workers in the public sector should be transferred to the private sector, MHS trade union leader Vilim Ribić said that such an attitude was harmful and accused employers of a neoliberal worldview whose main idea, he said, was that spending is bad and should be reduced “so that taxes are reduced and greater profit can be made.”
Finance Minister Zdravko Maric said on Monday unions had a legitimate right to strike after turning down a 3% base pay rise proposed by the government which he said was within the possibilities of the 2019 budget. “We came with an offer which some unions found acceptable and some didn’t. I think we’ll have another talk because they proposed it,” Marić said.
Marić said the government never met with unions “with a hidden agenda but always very openly and transparently.” “We understand and accept some of their proposals… that it’s necessary to have a long term framework,” he said, adding that it was necessary to see to the sustainability of public finances and that the government was offering a 3% base pay rise because only that was possible within the 2019 budget.
Reporters said the unions wanted a 6% rise. Marić responded that “no one would be happier than we if public finances could stand such a percentage.” “That 3%, without Christmas and other bonuses, is about 900 million kuna. Every percentage is 300 million kuna,” he said, adding that his ministry had envisaged that percentage before it had information about the state of affairs in the ailing Uljanik shipyard.
Asked what he expected of future meetings with the unions, Marić said he expected constructive dialogue.
For more on Croatia’s trade unions, click here.