Elderly go on hunger strike over pensions

  • 2007-09-12
  • By Kimberly Kweder

PENSION ANGER: This man's sign reads, 'People who are living retired after 1995 are living poor!'

VILNIUS - A group of elderly protesters held a hunger-strike at Vilnius' Independence Square urging Parliament to approve new legislation that would give them access to their unpaid workers' pensions.
The Lithuanian Pensioners' Movement started the demonstration Sept. 10. Two elderly men and two women stayed all day and night, drinking nothing but water and sleeping in a van for shelter. 
The next day at noon about 20 more supporters from Kaunas joined them in a peaceful march around Parliament. 

President of the Lithuanian Pensioners' Movement Jonas Burdulis led the procession holding a large wooden cross in his arms and singing traditional church songs.
The 67-year-old from Marijampole said he had waited long enough for his full pension.
"The government has owed me a total of 13,000 litas for eight years," Burdulis said.
"We will wait for Parliament to make a decision and for them to take future actions... I have little hope... If we don't succeed in our demonstration, then we will file discrimination charges against [Prime Minister] Kirkilas."
Their dispute is the result of several reorganizations of the state pension system, Sorda, which was founded in 1994 and overhauled in the following years due to financial strains. After 2002, strict limits were placed on old-age and disability pensions for people still working, said Aida Zemaiyte, advisor to the Minister of Social Security and Labor.

A Constitutional Court decision on Nov. 25, 2002 ruled that the Law on State Insurance Pensions was in conflict with the constitution because it reduced pensions for people who earned a steady income. According to the constitution, "every person may freely choose an occupation or business."
Ernestas Spruogis, director of the law department at the Constitutional Court, told The Baltic Times that the higher administrative court was the petitioner in that case.
"The main arguments were that pensioners have the right to old [unpaid] pensions. The pensions were protected as property rights," Spruogis said.

Burdulis said if the government does not return the workers' pensions from 2001 - 2002, it would be in violation of the constitution. "There's a broken oath between parliament members," he said.
A 200 million lita (58 million euro) budget proposal from the Social Security and Labor Ministry is now before Parliament, and could resolve part of the dispute. Zemiayte said the government has already agreed to pay part of the 2001 - 2002 workers' pensions if the state budget is approved.
In the proposal, families of workers who died before 2001 would receive their full pay.
One of the hunger strikers, Vilnius resident Liudvika Liugiene, said she was worried about the cost of living and food because she became a widow a few months ago. She said the money she receives from her husband's worker's pension was cut from 530 to 70 litas per month after her he died, and she now has to survive on her own 500 lita pension.

Lithuania is ranked third lowest in the EU-25 in terms of social security expenditure, according to the European pensions barometer report in 2006. The state social insurance basic pension is 266 litas (77 euros) per month. In January, the Lithuanian government pledged to increase pensions by 70 litas by Oct. 1.