* Govt plans 7.5 pct cut in public sector wages
* Plan to cut budget deficit to 3.5 pct in 2012
* Some 80,000 take part in strike
By Marja Novak
LJUBLJANA, April 18 Slovenia was hit by its
largest public sector strike in 20 years on Wednesday as some
80,000 teachers, doctors, police officers and others halted work
over planned pay cuts to rein in the euro zone member's budget
The strike, due to last one day, closed schools,
kindergartens, libraries and other public institutions in the
latest sign of public unease across the 17-member euro zone over
drastic spending cuts to tackle the sovereign debt crisis.
Facing renewed recession, the centre-right government of
Prime Minister Janez Jansa plans to cut the budget deficit from
6.4 percent in 2011 to 3.5 percent this year, and public sector
wages and benefits will bear the brunt of the belt-tightening.
Jansa, who took power in February, warned on Tuesday that
the country's economy was "on the edge".
On Wednesday, trade unions rallied tens of thousands to
strike in the largest such industrial action since the country
declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
Thousands protested at midday in the country's main cities,
including the capital Ljubljana where some held banners that
read, "You are saving the country but destroying the people",
and "Let's save the social state for our children."
"We want more cooperation and less competition," Branimir
Strukelj, the head of the confederation of public sector trade
unions, told crowds in front of the government building.
"We don't want the kind of brutal capitalism that leaves
behind corpses, the unemployed and the poor."
Parliament is due to begin debating the measures next week.
The country state was the euro zone's fastest growing
economy in 2007 but was badly hit by the global crisis because
of its dependence on exports.
The economy shrank by 8 percent in 2009. After a mild
recovery in 2010, Slovenia re-entered recession in 2011 when
gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 0.2 percent with a further
fall of 0.9 percent expected in 2012 amid lower export demand
and weak domestic spending.
Debt soared to 47.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP)
in 2011 from 21.9 percent in 2008 on lower tax income and high
Jansa said his government would continue talks with the
unions but that major changes to its plan to cut public sector
wages by some 7.5 percent from July would not be possible.
"The Slovenian economy is on the edge," he told state TV
Slovenia on Tuesday. "Twelve thousand companies went bust in
this crisis, we cannot put an additional burden on the private
sector," he said.
"The strike will not solve anything, it will just increase
Jansa said 120,000 jobs had been lost in the private sector
over the past three years while the public sector had grown by
9,000 to some 160,000 in a country of 2 million people.
Unemployment soared to 12.4 percent in February from 7
percent at the end of 2008.
Strukelj, the union chief, said the unions might agree to
pay cuts if the government backs down on plans to increase class
sizes and working hours for teachers that would result in
The strike, which does not involve transport workers, is
planned for one day but unions say it could be extended.
"We are against the unjust action that is destroying the
social sector, when they want to save money on the weakest
groups in our state - school children, young families, the sick
and retired," said teacher Jana Petek, protesting in Ljubljana.
Jansa said the government was planning to take on new debt
of at least 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) this year to cover
the deficit, of which 700 million euros will be spent on
interest on debt acquired in the past.
According to the government, public sector employees on
average enjoy 10 days more vacation each year and an average
monthly wage 23 percent higher in January than that in the
"I don't support this strike," said 35-year old Katja Miler,
who lost her private sector job as a carer for the handicapped
last year. "People in the public sector would not suffer too
much if their wages were reduced a bit. They have enough
privileges anyway," she said.