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2019.11.19 17:00

Lithuanian firefighters stage protest in Vilnius, warning service may collapse

Gytis Pankūnas, LRT.lt2019.11.19 17:00

Some 50 firefighters staged a rally outside the government building in Vilnius on Tuesday, demanding adequate funding for the service and shaming the government for failing to live up to its commitments.

“Shame, shame,” the firefighters were chanting and holding posters saying “How can you survive on 450 euros?”

Algis Lisauskas, the president of the Association of Firefighters Unions, told LRT.lt that, due to underfunding, firefighters may have to celebrate Christmas without a pay.

“This year, we have a funding gap of 2.6 million euros. This means that we will not be able to pay firefighters in December,” Lisauskas said.

According to him, municipal firefighters make, on average, 430 euros a month and the equipment they use is hopelessly antiquated. If things don't change, municipal fire services might collapse, Lisauskas said.

Firefighter unions say that, in order to operate and meet the commitments to their workers, the services will need 32 million euros of the central government's funding, but the current budget proposal only assigns 27 million.

The protesters also said that firefighters are forced to work one-person shifts, which goes against the government-approved rules, and do unpaid overtime.

Unless the issues are addressed, firefighters may go on a strike, according to Lisauskas.

“We don't want [to strike], because people's safety will be compromised. [...] But we will definitely do something. Perhaps go on a hunger strike,” he said.

The protesters were met by MP Valius Ąžuolas, the chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Budget and Finance, and Deputy Interior Minister Česlovas Mulma.

“The money is what it is. The Interior Ministry [...] tells the government what it needs every year through the Finance Ministry. [...] Today, we need to live on the money we have,” Mulma told reporters at the rally.

Read more: Lithuanian firefighters enjoy high trust, but not pay