Dissatisfied security forces consider their own protest action

Radek John, photo: CTK

As the government struggles to avert a looming health crisis, there are rumbles of discontent in another sphere of the public sector. The UBS police, fire fighters’, and prison wardens’ trade union has said it may follow the example set by dissatisfied doctors and organise a similar campaign threatening mass resignations unless its concerns are adequately addressed.

Radek John,  photo: CTK
The murmurs of discontent within the country’s security forces, which last year organized two demonstrations over low pay, have grown to a rumble. And police and fire-fighters lay the blame squarely at the door of one man – Interior Minister Radek John whom they accuse of inexperience and failing to adequately defend their interests. The UBS security forces trade union organization is now calling for his head in a petition that is to be put online and distributed among the country’s security forces on Tuesday. Although the union represents only a fraction of the country’s 50,000 police officers and fire fighters the mood of discontent is strong and a protest may spread like wildfire. Minister John says they have no chance of succeeding in the quest for more money.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
“Doctors did not receive a single additional crown from state coffers and if they have been offered more money it is money saved elsewhere in the health sector. I fought to get the force an extra 2.2 billion crowns from state coffers and got it. No one else could have done more under the circumstances –so if trade unions want to protest a lack of money they should demand the resignation of the government- that would make sense.”

The petition will reach police officers at a time when they get their slimmed-down January pay checks. The deputy head of the trade union organization behind the petition, Alexander Burda, says that while money is important the interior minister has failed the force in other ways.

Alexander Burda,  photo: Czech Police trade union
“This protest petition is not just about salaries. It is also about respect and about money for the operation of the force, about the fact that the minister is defending his own party interests at the expense of the security forces. He is solely concerned with the big fish – the big cases which are visible, but the run of the mill police work and fighting petty crime, as well as the conditions in which police officers work are of no interest to him.”

In line with the government’s austerity measures, some county police offices have informed mayors of smaller towns and villages they will no longer send out routine patrols and will only respond to calls for help. This has raised public concern and some mayors have even offered to pay for petrol, if the police agree to send out routine patrols on Friday and Saturday nights to prevent disturbances of the peace.

Challenged about the problem, the interior minister said that this would gradually be put right – but at the expense of further personnel cuts.

Photo: Barbora Němcová
“The Czech police force has more officers per capita than any other country in Europe. We have 430 officers per 100,000 inhabitants. The Scandinavian countries have 200. Our police force is overblown from the communist days when this was a police state. Even last year the police squandered millions on a recruitment campaign that was unnecessary. Our aim is to reduce the number of officers to 40,000 – then there will be enough money both for their salaries and for operation. And the Czech Republic will still have more officers per head than most European countries.”

News of further personnel cuts are unlikely to calm the troubled waters of the country’s security forces, however pundits note that they lack the clout for the kind of protest action undertaken by dissatisfied doctors and that in this case the government will make little effort to appease them.