By Fatos Bytyci
PRISTINA (Reuters) – Around 500,000 pupils and students in Kosovo stayed at home on Thursday as a strike by teachers demanding a 30 percent pay rise entered its second week.
Doctors and miners have also taken strike action for higher wages, and other public sector workers are threatening to do so, after a law was proposed that would boost salaries for civil servants and other government employees.
Last year’s big pay rise for Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj — to 2,950 euros (2,571 pounds) per month from 1,443 — also rankles with some public employees.
“The first step that government officials would do is raising the salaries to themselves and their staff and they leave us in a miserable way,” said Kadire Preniqi, who teaches at a primary school in the capital Pristina.
Her salary would rise to 621 euros per month from 478 euros if the strikers’ demands are met — nearly twice the private sector average of 370 euros in Kosovo, one of the poorest countries in Europe, where one in three workers is unemployed. The average public sector salary is 520 euros per month.
Pristina-based economist Naim Gashi said the public sector strikes reflected resentment about pay discrepancies.
“There are cases when someone who washes dishes in a public institution is paid more than a teacher,” Gashi said.
Ruud Vermeulen, the International Monetary Fund’s resident representative in Kosovo said 30 percent wage increases would be too big a burden for the economy, which the IMF expects to grow 4.2 percent this year, compared to 4 percent in 2018.
“A 10 percent wage increase for teachers would cost some 13-14 million euros, or about 0.2 percent of GDP (gross domestic product). A 30 percent increase would cost three times as much,” he wrote in an email to Reuters.
Driven mainly by state-financed investments to improve infrastructure after three decades of neglect, plus remittances from citizens working abroad, higher growth is not expected to boost living standards for ordinary Kosovans.
Corruption and political instability have kept most foreign investors away from Kosovo since the country of 2 million people declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Catherine Evans)