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News 13 Oct 16

Macedonia Soldiers Threaten Strike Over Low Pay

Amid an ongoing crisis over refugees in the south, Macedonian Army personnel have announced a strike, complaining of low and overdue wages and poor working conditions.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonian soldiers at the southern border with Greece. Photo by: AP/Boris Grdanoski

While Macedonia's Defence Ministry says it is still reviewing soldiers' demands for higher wages and better working conditions, the two trade unions representing the military say they are considering strike action as soon as next week.

Risto Ajtov, head of the Trade Union for Defence and Security, SOB, says the strike is already in preparation and “will be canceled only if the government accepts our requests”.

Soldiers seek an immediate 20-per-cent rise in monthly wages ranging from 200 to 300 euros, as well as future increases that would put their wages closer in line with those in the police, who they say are far better paid.

As the army has been deployed since the start of last year on the southern border with Greece, to prevent illegal entries of migrants and refugees, the soldiers also want higher and more regular overtime pay.

Since the surge of refugees earlier this year, parliament has proclaimed crisis situation at the southern border and has deployed the army and police there to protect the frontier.

“We have had several meetings with the trade unions. We are aware of their demands and we are seriously reviewing them,” the Defence Ministry told BIRN on Wednesday.

The strike by military personnel may begin as soon as next week.

By law, the SOB and the Independent Trade Union of professional Soldiers, NSPVM, had to announce it at least ten days in advance, which they did last Friday.

“The situation is desperate. We barely cope with all the problems. Our wages are below average and the working conditions are miserable. We face a constant lack of equipment, even of uniforms; heating in the army barracks has not been working since I can remember,” one army officer told BIRN under condition of anonymity.

"Now, with the refugee crisis, many of us spend 11 to 12 hours at work but the payments for overtime, despite being small, are often late as well. Despite its promises, the ministry has also failed to provide free transport for personnel going to work," the officer said.  

Macedonia has consistently cut spending on the armed forces, from 2.2 per cent of the budget in 2006 to only 1.3 per cent last year and this year.

NATO says that any country which is applying for membership should spend at least 2.3 per cent of its budget on defence.

Military spending shrank faster after 2008, when Macedonia was denied entrance to NATO due to the Greek blockade over the unresolved dispute over its name. NATO then said that Macedonia would be welcomed into the alliance as soon as the row with Greece was resolved.

In April, the provisional Prime Minister, Emil Dimitriev, announced a modernization plan for the army. He said that over the next five years the government planned to acquire new equipment worth some 200 million euros and pay for it within the next ten years.

However, the government did not mention wages of military personnel, which are among the lowest in the Balkans, and below the official average monthly wage in Macedonia, which stands at little more than 300 euros.

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