Slovak unions march against government budget cuts

By Jason Hovet

BRATISLAVA, Oct 12 (BestGrowthStock) – Thousands of Slovak union
workers marched in the capital on Tuesday to protest against tax
rises and the loss of some exemptions that form part of a 1.75
billion euro ($2.43 billion) budget-cutting plan.

The demonstration was the latest display of union discontent
in Europe over government austerity measures that workers —
mostly in the public sector — say will hit them the hardest.

Slovakia’s new centre-right government is aiming for the
largest budget consolidation among the European Union’s formerly
communist countries in its 2011 state budget draft, now being
debated in parliament. [ID:nLDE695124]

The draft is designed to pare the overall public sector
fiscal shortfall to 4.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)
from about 7.8 percent this year through spending cuts, tax
increases and a small boost from economic growth.

The unions have said they support budget consolidation but
not at the high expense of workers. They oppose, among other
things, plans to raise value-added and excise taxes and cancel
some tax breaks, including for private pension schemes.
“We warned the government during tripartite talks that it is
impossible to put the whole weight of responsibility simply on
the workers,” Slovak Confederation of Trade Unions president
Miroslav Gazdik said.

“We expect that parliament… will objectively deal with our
notes and will find measures that will impact Slovak citizens
the least.”

The cabinet approved a 1.75 billion euro austerity package
for 2011 in September. The euro zone periphery country’s
consolidation is more ambitious than cuts planned by other
central European countries, but coming from a worse balance.

Local media estimated 4,000 to 5,000 protesters took part in
the march, blowing whistles and spinning noisemakers while
carrying banners with slogans like “What kind of government is
this for us when they don’t like us”.

Police spokeswomen could not be reached to give police
estimates on the turnout.

Union protests in Slovakia have traditionally been
small-scale. Tuesday’s turnout was much smaller than a protest
in the neighbouring Czech Republic last month when around 40,000
state workers demonstrated against pay cuts.

Czech unions said on Tuesday they would decide by the end of
the month whether to strike against planned changes to public
sector pay. French unions began a wave of strikes against
pension reform on Tuesday. [ID:nLDE69B0SP] [ID:nLDE69B09E]

Slovakia, a country of 5.4 million, has seen its debt jump
during the economic slowdown to 43.8 percent of gross domestic
product this year from 27.7 percent at the end of 2008.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Slovak unions march against government budget cuts