Polish teachers rally to demand wage hikes

Warsaw (AFP) –


Several thousand teachers rallied in Warsaw on Saturday demanding wage hikes a week after Poland's right-wing government announced a raft of generous spending measures in other sectors ahead of local elections this fall.

Public sector wages, especially in education and health care, have long been notoriously low in Poland, a 2004 EU member of 38 million people, where the average gross monthly salary is around 5,000 zloty (1,200 euro, $1,500).

"We're fed up with the disregard for teachers, we're fed up with pitiful teachers' salaries," Slawomir Broniarz, head of the ZNP Polish Teachers' Union, told protesters who blared horns and beat drums in front of the education ministry.

"The education minister says we earn 5,400 zloty, but that is over 2,000 zloty more than most of us actually receive," he said, demanding that each teacher receive a 1,000 zloty wage hike.

The ZNP has rejected assurances by Education Minister Anna Zalewska that a series of wage hikes planned over 2018-19 will meet their demands.

"I've worked for 38 years and I take home 2,800 zloty per month," a Warsaw teacher who identified herself only as Teresa told AFP, adding that new teachers net around 1,900 zloty per month.

"Pensions for retired teachers are pitiful. People leaving now get around 1,900 zloty per month but I know teachers who retired eight years ago get 1,200 zloty," she said, adding "how are you supposed to survive on that?"

Facing a sharp slide in popularity ahead of local elections this fall, last week Poland's governing Law and Justice (PiS) party announced new welfare measures for the elderly and disabled as well as tax cuts for small businesses on top of other benefits it already introduced.

Public sector wage hikes, however, did not appear on their list.

Recent opinion polls have shown that backing for the PiS tumbled by 10 percent, from around 40 percent, for the first time since it took office in late 2015 on the heels of a scandal involving generous bonuses for PiS government ministers.

Media revelations that they each received between 15,000 and 19,000 euros ($18,300-$23,200) on top of their pay last year sparked public outrage, prompting powerful PiS party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski to order them to hand the funds over to charity.