Polish Police Join Protest for Higher Pay Before Local Elections

(Bloomberg) -- Tens of thousands of Polish policemen took to the streets to demand higher pay, the second large protest by public-sector workers before this month’s local elections.

About 30,000 officers, or nearly a third of all police in the country of 38 million, marched in Warsaw on Tuesday, escalating a two-month-long demonstration against low wages and tough working conditions. With Poland’s economy growing at one of the fastest paces in Europe and the labor market hit by a shortage of workers, police and other government employees are calling for higher salaries from a government that has raised spending on social programs.

“The mood in the police never been so bad,” Rafal Jankowski, the chairman of the Independent Union of Police Officers, said by phone. “We’re not asking for anything extraordinary. We only want to receive what was pledged by the ruling party in its election campaign three years ago. We’ve waited long enough.”

The ruling Law & Justice party is coming under pressure from the public sector before Oct. 21 local government elections. Last month, the country’s second-largest labor union mobilized almost 30,000 thousand teachers and government workers, as well as employees of small companies, blaming the nationalist administration for failing to deliver on pledges of improving living standards faster and for more people.

The $524 billion economy -- the largest in the European Union’s ex-communist east -- grew 5.1 percent from a year earlier in the second quarter, helping the budget deficit remain below the EU’s 3 percent cap. While average gross pay at large companies is currently at 4,800 zloty ($1,288) a month, a rookie policeman earns about two-thirds of that, and 1.5 million Poles earn the minimum 2,100 zloty.

The protesting officers are demanding 650 more zloty a month, fully paid overtime, and the ability to retire after 15 years of service, instead of 25 years now. They’re also asking for additional changes aimed at improving work conditions. Low pay and reports of work overload have hit recruiting efforts, with vacant police jobs rising to a record 6,000.

“That shortage is a huge issue for Poland,” Jankowski said. “We’re missing people and those who recently joined the police came mainly because they couldn’t find any other jobs, and they’ll leave immediately when they find a better pay.”

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