RIGA - The streets outside the Cabinet of Ministers building were lined with over 1,000 people protesting low wages as part of the Oct. 7 World Day for Decent Work. The protest came the same day the government decided to draw up next year's budget.
The majority of participants were teachers from Latvia's various regions. Also present were representatives of the State Fire and Rescue Service, medical personnel, police, and the State Environment Service.
The Latvian government, during the picket, drew up next year's budget with a deficit of 1.85 percent of the gross domestic product. The budget they adopted will freeze wages of government employees and cut thousands of civil service jobs.
Andrejs Jansons, a policeman for 15 years, didn't feel that the protest would do much. "My goal in being here is to raise my pay. They may show this protest on television or write about it in the papers, but in the long run it won't do anything, I think. I don't believe that our salaries will be raised."
Free Trade Union Confederation of Latvia Chairman Peteris Krigers spoke to participants, saying that more than 100 trade unions of other countries supported them and that the presence of so many protesters proved that they were not indifferent to the situation in Latvia.
Despite the picket's fortuitous timing with the Cabinet meeting, only one minister came to address the crowd. Education and Science Minister Tatjana Koke pledged to do her utmost to ensure that teachers receive the promised wage increases.
Krigers' trade union has prepared a statement on the draft budget charging that the trade union views the government's work on the draft budget as unsatisfactory and that there was no true dialogue with social partners and no detailed information on the planned revenues and expenses.
However, the statement did speak positively on a compromise regarding an increase of the non-taxable minimum to 100 lats (142 euros) and of tax allowances for dependents to 70 lats.
"This decision is significant not only for public sector employees, but also for thousands of workers in the private sector who will receive a slight raise of their monthly wages," the statement said.
Chairman Krigers told the crowd that his organization has submitted the workers' demands to the government, adding that the issue of wage increases remained unsolved.
"Money for wage increases will have to be sought in the Parliament," Krigers said at the picket.
Refusing to back down from its demands, the trade union argues that the priorities of the government's 2009 budget should also include a guarantee that agreements formed between the government and trade unions regarding pay raises and other issues will be observed.
Trade unions also want the government to clamp down on illegal employment and wages.
The World Day for Decent Work is a global movement to campaign for workers' rights, fight poverty and promote solidarity among trade unions and workers worldwide.