Brussels: EU staff strike over blocked pay rise
Hundreds of European Union employees staged a three-hour strike on Monday in defence of a controversial Brussels decision to award them an inflation-busting 3.7 percent pay rise.
BRUSSELS - The recommendation has been blocked by a number of ambassadors after member states accused the European Commission of double standards given it has demanded strict national cutbacks to public sector outlay.
Under the laws of the bloc, member states have until midnight on December 31 to pass the measure which applies to bureaucrats' salaries reaching up to almost 18,000 euros per month net, and also to a portion of European Parliament lawmakers' wages, according to an EU official.
Among those on the 'picket line' on Monday were Fabien Durand, a full-time official with the Renewal and Democracy union who admits to being paid around 9.000 euros per month net.
"The member states don't want to respect their commitments. We can't trust them," he told reporters.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was the first government leader to speak out on the issue, warning disgruntled EU staff on Friday to avoid steep wage demands given economic constraints all around.
"Obviously everybody is agreed that pay settlements have got to be reasonable at this time," Brown told reporters after a summit of EU leaders in the EU capital.
And a meeting of member states on the issue broke up later Monday without a sufficient majority to push for any renegotiation.
Talks will resume on Wednesday but Austria, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland remain "opposed" to re-evaluation, according to one diplomat.
Demonstrators said tax and other allowances over and above high salaries compared to people performing similar roles in member states were misunderstood given personal sacrifices.
"Staff in countries' embassies here get much bigger perks than us, such as cars," said Roland Hanff, a 52-year-old from Luxembourg who works on archiving EU documents and takes home some 6,000 euros per month.
"I can't work in my mother tongue," he added by way of further justification. Luxembourgish is considered a dialect closely related to German, which is one of the EU's official languages.
"We won't starve, that's for sure," admitted IT specialist Abramo Landi, also on 6,000 euros per month but who nevertheless said his pay was poor compared to consultant rates of some 800 euros per day.
"I wasn't going to leave the Portuguese sun to come to Brussels without good reason," added secretary Licinia Dias, who pockets 4,000 euros per month net after 18 years on the payroll.
Disruptive staff action is also planned during a session of the European parliament in Strasbourg this week, while unions for European Commission staff have further expressed their solidarity.
The commission proposed the pay hike last month for employees of the main institutions -- the parliament, the commission and the council where EU nations are represented.
Under that scheme, some 44,500 people in Brussels and elsewhere stand to benefit from the increase on salaries ranging from 2,550 euros (3,800 dollars) per month to around 17,700 euros for a departmental head.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said the executive was bound by European law to grant the pay rise as it is statutorily calculated on the basis of the previous year's public salary pay awards in eight EU nations, including Britain, France, Germany and Italy.
A commission spokeswoman said on Monday that "we believe it is legitimate to expect that method to be applied... we expect the rules to be applied."
Another spokeswoman said there had been a "loss in purchasing power for EU officials... of 1.7 percent" since 2004, and that pension contributions -- although also, in theory, returns -- would be going up as of January 1, 2010.AFP/Expatica