Doctors, teachers, police protest low wages

  • 2008-09-26
  • Talis Saule Archdeacon

Medical workers organized the protest in conjunction with a one day "warning strike" over low wages (photo courtesy of LVSADA).

RIGA 's Latvian medical workers, teachers and police took to the streets Friday to demand higher wages.

Police estimated that 1,500 medical workers and teachers took part in the first protest, which took place outside the Parliament building at about 10 a.m.

The protest was called in an effort to get the government to reverse its plan to freeze all public sector wages in 2009. Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis was forced to propose a wage freeze due to a sharp economic downturn that has left the government struggling to find ways to cut back on expenses.

The atmosphere was generally calm and peaceful. Protesters wielded signs reading "don't make us go work abroad" and "let's swap the wages and then freeze them." Many of the protesters had traveled from locations outside of Rigato participate in the rally.

The protest came alongside a one day "warning protest" staged by the medical workers' union.

Numerous opposition and government leaders attended the event and spoke with the crowd. Those who addressed the crowd included Parliamentary Speaker Gundars Daudze, Health Minister Ivars Eglitis, Krisjanis Karins and Ingrida Circene from the opposition New Era party, Vaira Paegle from the ruling People's Party, and Janis Strazdins from the Greens and Farmers Union.

Daudze said that the protesters' demands were legitimate, but that it was not possible for the government to fully comply with them. He also urged unity on the issue, offering the union leader to sit down to negotiations.

"The path to progress will be much more difficult if we stand against each other," the speaker of parliament said.

In a meeting between Godmanis and Chairman of Latvian Health and Social Care Workers' Union Valdis Keris following the protest, the prime minister reportedly said that he would "try" to find ways to increase medical workers' salaries, but that he could not make any promises.

Later that day, approximately 200 police officers gathered outside the interior ministry to protest low wages. Police plan another, much larger, protest on Oct. 4.

The government had previously announced widespread lay offs and that it would freeze all public sector wages in an effort to cut back on expenditures and reduce the deficit. The Cabinet has already announced that it would scrap the original plan for a 1.2 percent surplus in 2009 in favor of a 1.85 percent deficit.