March 5, 2019 / 5:07 PM / 4 months ago

Polish court staff seek higher pay in pre-vote tussle for welfare cash

WARSAW (Reuters) - Thousands of workers at Polish courts and prosecutors’ offices took to the streets of Warsaw on Tuesday to demand better pay and working conditions as different sectors compete for state welfare funding hikes ahead of a vote.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has made raising living standards a plank of its re-election bid, but some public sector workers feel money spent on projects such as expanding child benefits should go to them.

Many protesters wore carnival-style masks of crying faces. Some carried banners saying “Enough of working for peanuts”.

“We are overworked, we have a lot of responsibilities and after tax we earn 1,800 zlotys ($474)” per month, said Damian Marciniec, a court secretary from the southern city of Rzeszow.

The protesters gathered in front of the Finance Ministry and marched towards the prime minister’s office, where the government was holding a news conference on planned welfare spending ahead of the general election later this year.

PiS pledged last month to increase public spending by up to $10 billion a year, raising child subsidies and state pensions while at the same time cutting taxes and improving transport infrastructure.

“Our new programme is a programme for Poles for the future ... We have this main goal and the goal is better, richer, European lives for Poles,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters.

Morawiecki laid out how the measures would be funded through closing loopholes in the tax and social security systems.

The government also faces pressure from teachers whose unions announced school and kindergarten strikes on April 8.

PiS officials had urged teachers not to take action.

The head of the president’s office Krzysztof Szczerski even went as far as to say teachers were “under no obligation to remain celibate” and could also enjoy child benefits.

He later apologised for the comment.

Also on Tuesday, a few blocks away, dozens of taxi drivers gathered in front of the Infrastructure Ministry, demanding that the government regulate the functioning of Uber in Poland.

($1 = 3.7940 zlotys)

Reporting by Karol Witenberg and Agnieszka Barteczko; Writing by Agnieszka Barteczko and Alan Charlish; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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