• October 16, 2015
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The biggest Polish protest in Vilnius

A demonstration to protect the education of national minorities and against the liberalization of the Labour Code took place on Friday 16 October outside the government’s headquarters in Vilnius. The protest was aimed at drawing attention to the unfair social and education policy in the country.

“Respect for the teacher – respect for society”, “No to the reorganization of schools”, “Let them study in our schools”, “Social democrats – defend employees, not business”, “No to corruption”, “No to the new social model”, “Don’t force us to leave” – proclaimed the banners. According to the organizers, about 4, 000 people took part in the demonstration.

The protest is aimed against the social model project, which is currently being developed by the government – said local-government councillor Edita Tamošiūnaitė to the “Kurier”.

– This protest expresses not only the interests of the Polish minority, but also the interests of every employee, regardless of nationality. The new model of the Labour Code is very liberal, which means that an employer can ‘literally’ immediately fire an employee: with three days of notice. It is unacceptable, especially for an employee with young children. The government programme is also planning an alleged pay rise for nursery employees, with these workers currently being paid just above the current minimum wage (325 Euros). When the minimum wage rises in the New Year, the carers will be earning the minimum wage. It is unacceptable. Managers of social institutions: rest homes, orphanages, and nursery Principals earn about 430 Euros. Such responsible positions need to be decently paid, and that is what we demand – said Edita Tamošiūnaitė.

– The liberalization of the social policy is unacceptable to us – said Albert Narwojsz, Vice Manager of local-government administration in the Vilnius region, during the demonstration. – The government has presented a new social model to the Parliament in which it marginalizes the status of employees. We say ‘no’ to reducing wages, we say ‘no’ to reducing redundancy pay and notice periods, ‘no’ to introducing term contracts of employment, ‘no’ to reducing the security of employees who raise children, ‘no’ to firing an employee with three days of notice.

Representatives of the Labour Union were present at the demonstration.

– The President of the Education Workers’ Union of Vilnius Region, Svetlana Juodelienė, asked with irony: What social model are we talking about? Maybe it should be called the anti-social model? The plans to reduce wages, to simplify the dismissal process, to shorten the notice period, to prolong the business week, to  implement fixed-term employment contracts…Is our country ready for an increase in the number of unemployed people?

As she previously mentioned, the situation of the Education system is awful and there do not seem to be any positive political changes on the horizon.

– Teaching salaries remain at the minimum wage and the implemented changes are only cosmetic. The indecision of the Ministry of Education and the inability to take responsibility forces the Lithuanian education system to move around in circles and it impairs the quality of teaching – said Svetlana Juodelienė.

As Edita Tamošiūnaitė said to the ”Kurier”, the current Education Law is still dangerous for the schools of minorities.

– Vilnius is the prime example. Recently 9 high schools were downgraded – Polish, Russian and Lithuanian. Not only are students suffering, as they don’t know their future, but it is also terrible for the teachers, who are forced to sign second-rate employment contracts – said Edita Tamošiūnaitė.

 The Prime Minister called yesterday’s demonstration politicking, just like the warning strike on the 1st September, when students went to the Holy Mass in Ostra Brama instead of going to school.

 – Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania (AWPL) is not the organizer of this demonstration – it only supports it. The Labour Union organizes it – the employees. AWPL is only standing up for them.

The Prime Minister needs to understand that if people organize a protest outside a government building it means that there is a problem that needs to be resolved – said Tamošiūnaitė.

– This demonstration is a reaction to the lack of co-operation – said Danuta Narbut for ”Kurier”, the mother of a student from one of the Vilnius schools and a member of the Parents of Polish Schools in Vilnius Forum. – We submitted many letters at various times…We did not receive any response. At the same time it is being publicized that we have the best teaching conditions. It is clear that there is a lack of coherent strategy, no real education policy for national minorities. To create such a strategy, a dialogue between the government and the representatives of national minorities is needed. In the meantime the Polish school system here in Lithuania is being destroyed.

The Lithuanian Association of Education and Science Union, the Lithuanian Education Labour Union, the Lithuanian Union of Educational Facilities, the Lithuanian Teachers’ Union, the Lithuanian Union of Education Workers, the Christian Union of Education Workers and employees from the fields of culture, education, social protection and parents of national minority school pupils signed the petition addressed to Algirdasa Butkevičiusa, the Prime Minister of the Lithuanian Republic. The petition demanded the provision of social guarantees and justice in the fields of education, culture and others.

Translated by Karolina Jarmużewska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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