VIENNA (Reuters) - A wave of protests against Austria’s new government escalated as tens of thousands of civil servants demonstrated in Vienna on Wednesday for better pay and an end to a hiring freeze.
The centrist government sworn in this week had promised continuity and to protect living standards, but immediately provoked the ire of several groups by scrapping the science ministry and taking a hard line on balancing the budget.
Police said 40,000 civil servants took part in the demonstration in front of Vienna’s imperial Hofburg Palace, angered by a below-inflation pay offer after a pay freeze last year, and a stop to hiring that has depleted staff numbers.
The demonstration followed large protests this week by egg-throwing students and school pupils angry at the demise of the science ministry and the start of new school-leaver tests.
“The government in general is totally focused on saving money,” said Eveline Ostermann, a 52-year-old leader of the financial civil servants’ union who had travelled from Austria’s second city, Graz, for the demonstration.
“We’re losing more and more staff and at the same time we have to do more with less money,” she said. “At some point, the party’s over.”
Austria’s 200,000 tenured civil servants attract envy for the security of their positions and pensions, as well as pay structures that guarantee them increases every two years independently of across-the-board pay negotiations.
But the trade unions organizing the protest highlighted their lowly paid members, who include janitors, kindergarten assistants and rubbish collectors.
Austria has the European Union’s second-highest economic growth rate and the bloc’s lowest unemployment.
But voters in September elections, unhappy with political stagnation, business corruption and increasing European integration, almost threw out the centrist coalition partners who have dominated post-war Austrian politics.
Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan