Zatlers cuts jobs and freezes wages, outraging lawmakers

  • 2008-09-10
  • By Monika Hanley

COLD AS ICE: President Zatlers' decision to freeze wages has left many outraged lawmakers and citizens.

RIGA - The cabinet has decided to freeze all wage growth next year and force ministries to cut spending by more that 10 percent in an effort to help balance the budget.
"This will be the year when each Latvian resident will suffer from the economic crisis, and there will not be the privileged ones who will suffer less. I appreciate that the government has at least promised pensioners to receive additional payments. They need this 'umbrella from the government,'" President Zatlers said in an interview on Sept. 8.

The president said that residents should try to understand the government's decision to freeze wages in the public sector.
"If revenues to the state budget next year are planned smaller than this year, then we
are not able to spend so much," Zatlers said, adding that this will be the first year
in which the government and Parliament will have balanced budget  evenues.

Zatlers said that next year will be even more difficult; all ministries will have to cut their costs by 10.6 percent. "This means real reduction of the number of employees, real reduction of programs, real downsizing of institutions," the president said.
The government also agreed not to increase wages for any profession next year, creating large protests and uproar among trade unions.

Daina K., a recent college graduate, said, "It's hard enough to find a job 's why would they create more joblessness?" She has been looking for ministry work for three months with no success.
The opposition parties criticize the government's decision not to increase wages for public sector employees next year. Meanwhile, there are no current plans to demand the resignation of the government, as the Latvian newspaper Diena earlier reported.

The Harmony Center party leader, Janis Urbanovics, had voiced criticism of the progress of events, but he does not see sense in demanding the resignation of the government because its stability is a priority.
"When I criticized the work style of Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, I was asked whether I would demand his resignation, and I said yes. Even though it sounds arrogant, I also now believe that we would be able to do it better. Unfortunately, the incumbent government sees no threat arithmetically," said Urbanovics.

Urbanovics said that the only thing that remains for the party to do is fulfill its opposition's duty: criticize hem, adding that "we at first hance would make use ofthe situation and push them aside." He said that the Harmony Center  ould be ready to get involved in the formation of a new government, if necessary.
The head of the Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia (LBAS) also said that a government decision to freeze wages would result in "chaos" and a "very serious crisis."

"Doctors, teachers and policemen have nowhere to go," said LBAS chairman Peteris Krigers in an interview with the news program 900 Seconds. Krigers went on to say that the decision came as an unwelcome surprise to government employees and the next step is still a mystery.
"With this decision, the government has put an end to the social dialogue, as social partners were not informed about this step, and we do not know how to continue negotiations with the government," Krigers said.

Also voicing their outrage are the Leftists For Human Rights in United Latvia. Faction head Jakovs Pliners said: "In my opinion, the government has only proved its incapability to deal with problem situations." He added that he has managed to get acquainted with the government's prepared draft budget for next year and is sure that his party will not support it.
The parties will meet next week to discuss negotiations with trade unions and with party factions to come to an agreement.

The president stands by his decision and is unwavering in his approach despite the criticism. "We have never tried to think about efficiency in state administration. We were thinking about quantity 's the more employees, the higher quality of administration. Residents see it clearly 's the number of employees does not ensure the quality."