Thursday, December 10, 2009

Polish police protest over benefit arrears

From: Foxyard
At least 4,000 Polish police officers protested on Tuesday over delays in the payment of benefits that have built up as the government struggled to get to grips with a sharp economic downturn.

Uniformed policemen and women waved trade union banners and blew whistles outside Prime Minister Donald Tusk's office in an elegant district of Warsaw as organisers addressed them from the top of a red double-decker bus.

"We are protesting against anarchy and against the government's failure to respect the law," organiser Roman Wierzbicki, 54, told Reuters.

"We are owed about 200 million zlotys ($73 million) by law. We have not been paid and we have come here because talks have reached an impasse. We expect this situation not to be repeated in 2010," said Wierzbicki, a 25-year veteran of the force.

The finance ministry has vowed to pay the arrears by the end of the year, the PAP state news agency reported.

However, the centre-right government also has to find savings as it struggles to balance its books amid the economic slowdown and falling tax receipts. Police fear their 2010 budget will be slashed.

Customs officials, firefighters and border guards joined the police in a display of solidarity.

The protesters handed a petition to the government demanding no job cuts, no salary freeze and no reductions in social benefits. Tusk himself did not meet police representatives.

"It was a huge disappointment for my colleagues (that Tusk stayed away). We hope a meeting with the prime minister can be arranged in the near future," said Jan Velleman, a spokesman for the Luxembourg-based European Confederation of Police.

Uniformed public sector workers in Poland enjoy a range of benefits, including the right to retire early. Police benefits also include money for transport, vacations and accommodation.

Central Warsaw is accustomed to worker demonstrations, though Poland remains the only member of the 27-nation European Union to have avoided recession in the global financial crisis.