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NEWS 22 Dec 16

Bosnian Serb Unions Protest Over Wage Cuts

Unions plan protests on Thursday in Banja Luka against cuts in public-sector salaries in Bosnia’s Serb-led entity, Republika Srpska - timed to coincide with MPs' discussion of the budget.

Danijel Kovacevic
BIRN
Banja Luka
Union protests in December last year over the adoption of new labour laws. Photo: Anadolu

Unions have announced protests in Banja Luka for Thursday, when the Republika Srpska assembly is due to discuss the 2017 budget for the Serb-run entity.

As an introduction to Thursday's protests, unions representing the judiciary on Wednesday organized a one-hour strike between 11am and midday. 

The RS government says it is not cutting salaries but cutting the compensation paid for past years' work, which is paid as a supplement to workers' salaries. 

This compensation is worth 0.5 per cent of the basic salary for each year of service. The government wants to cut it to 0.3 per cent. 

According to union estimates, workers stand to lose an average of 40 Bosnian marks [about 20 euros] a month. The government says it will save money.

In a bid to head off strikes, the government adapted the proposal and offered to keep the percentage at 0.5 for workers with over 25 years in service. Unions rejected the compromise.

"The workers will not accept the announced cuts in wages and will use all available methods to save their rights," Ranka Misic, president of the RS Trade Unions, told BIRN.

According to the data of the unions, the average monthly pay of teachers and police in the RS ranges between 800 and 1,100 marks [400-550 euros] a month.

The budget, due to be debated on Thursday by the RS parliament, limits the total public sector wage bill to 717 million marks, which is only achievable by cutting the compensation paid for past years' of work, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic said, calling union protests unjustified. 

"The fund for salaries is limited. We think this is better than sending home a number of employees and leaving them without any income," Cvijanovic said on Tuesday.

The RS government has drafted a budget for 2017 of 3.2 billion marks [1.6 billion euros] tailored to cut the costs of its growing foreign debt.

According to government data, the RS's total external debt is 5.4 billion marks. In addition, the government plans to borrow an additional 608 million in 2017, according to the proposed budget for 2017.

The two Bosnian entities, linked via a weak central government, both need IMF cash to plug their budget deficits.

“The RS Government does not have much room to maneuver. In a letter of intent to the IMF, they are committed to saving. If they give up, the whole arrangement is in danger and, without money from the IMF, the RS government cannot function,” a Banja Luka-based political analyst, Zoran Pavlovic, told BIRN.

Pavlovic said the mild austerity measures are the least the government can do, but he doubts it will be enough.

The paradox is that while union demonstrations will be joined by members of the RS police, their colleagues will also be deployed to ensure the safety of the protesters and the building of the National Assembly.

"Our goal is not large protests but a quiet and the peaceful one, because we care about our fellow officers," Anica Jondic president of the police union, said on Wednesday.

The demonstration, according to plan, will begin in front of the House of Unions in Banja Luka at 9.30am and a column of trade unionists from all over the RS will walk to the parliament, where a special session starts at 10am at which lawmakers will discuss the budget.

About the same time last year, RS unions organized protests against the new Labour Law. At one moment, protests got out of control and workers clashed with the police while trying to enter the National Assembly building in Banja Luka.

The demonstrators, also led by the President of the Trade Union, Ranka Misic, demanded that parliament return the bill back to regular procedure and abandon the intention to discuss it in an urgent procedure.

Parliament rejected the workers' demand, adopted the Law and security escorted Misic from the parliament building.

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