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[Firefighters’ Protest] Government Representatives Support Them At The Protest But Call Them Extortioners At The Press Conference

When there is a fire and lives and property are threatened, there is no doubt about who will come to help – the firefighters. When the firefighters are doing their job, they are risking their own lives. Since this is clear to everyone, in the case of fires (especially major fires like the ones in Karst we saw last year), we can witness praise and promises from the authorities that they will do something to improve the situation of the firefighters. However, when it comes to doing something in practice for the people who are doing a noble job, everyone immediately falls silent. Memory is instantly and “miraculously” lost. Since professional firefighters are unhappy about their low pay, they decided to organise a rally to express their dissatisfaction as a sign of criticism.

“We are heroes to the people, fools to you”, “We stick our heads in the fire, but all we get from the government is a kick in the arse”, “Come and have your picture taken, we’re all here”, “We’d just like a happy ending”, “A thank you does not pay the bills”, “A promise is only true as long as it burns”, “In Slovenia, the protocol pastry chef at Brdo has a higher salary than a professional firefighter”, “We are more burned out than the Karst”, read some of the signs that in themselves eloquently convey the situation of professional firefighters. “We are angry with the political bigwigs who have been making a fool of us for more than a year and a half. That is why we have gathered here today, because we have had enough of this attitude towards us,” stressed David Švarc, Secretary-General of the Professional Firefighters’ Trade Union of Slovenia.

The protest rally, which started at 11 a.m. on Thursday, brought together firefighters from all firefighting units, except for those who were on duty and thus responsible for protecting lives, homes and property.  Švarc told those gathered in front of the government building that the firefighters had gathered because they were fed up with this attitude. “We have gathered in front of the government, where those who decide our fates, decide the fates of public servants and firefighters are, to tell them what they need to hear, what situation we are in and that we don’t want to be in that situation anymore,” he announced.

They want the government side to show a willingness to negotiate

That the government is only interested in firefighters when they need them was pointed out by retired professional firefighter and former trade union president Aleksander Ogrizek. “It is a disgrace that a firefighter who first joins us is paid the minimum wage,” he said, adding that young firefighters are not able to live a decent life at all. Ogrizek called on the government to bring trade union representatives to the negotiations.

According to the Slovenian Press Agency, the trade union is calling for better regulation of the firefighters’ status, saying it wants firefighters to be placed in appropriate pay grades, to eliminate pay disparities and to be treated on an equal footing with some other groups. When some groups in the public sector received pay raises, they asked the government to raise firefighters’ salaries, too – by eight pay grades. There was no sign of any compliance on the government side, unlike what was seen, for example, in the case of judges and prosecutors. As the firefighters’ discontent was further aggravated by the government’s positions on public sector reform, they decided to hold a rally. Before the rally, Švarc mentioned the part of the government’s proposal on the elimination of pay disparities as particularly controversial. “This is foreseen for the period from the 1st of January 2024 to the 30th of June 2026, which means that firefighters would have to wait for the elimination of pay disparities during this period, while all promotions would be frozen under the government’s proposal,” he explained.

The government representatives were once again protesting against themselves

In addition to the telling banners, the rally also featured a model of a fire engine, with photographs of Prime Minister Robert Golob, Minister of Public Administration Sanja Ajanović Hovnik, Defence Minister Marjan Šarec and Šarec’s State Secretary Rudi Medved. And although Speaker of the National Assembly Urška Klakočar Zupančič is an integral part of the government that let the firefighters down, she came out to meet them, waving in support. But this is far from being the only bizarre thing that happened. Ministers Ajanović Hovnik and Šarec also attended the protest against themselves, but the real question is whether they will also hear what the professional firefighters have to say, or did they just come out to be caught on camera and get some favourable reporting? Given that Šarec himself is a volunteer firefighter, one would certainly have reason to expect him to do something to improve the situation of those who risk their lives on a daily basis.

The “support” of the authorities, however, was only illusory. As soon as she had the chance – and they were no longer surrounded by enraged firefighters – the Minister of Public Administration branded them extortioners, saying that “Negotiations happen at the table, not in the street, and what we have witnessed today is neither a negotiation nor the street, it is extortion.”

“Personally, I find it difficult to find some understanding for this. If you want respect, you have to give respect, but today that was not the case. The government sees the firefighters’ request as unjustified, because it wants to maintain the pay ratios between these professional groups, knowing that they are an extremely important part of the functioning of the state,” the minister added.

People finally had the opportunity to see the hypocrisy of the Golob government on the same day. Support in principle at a protest, then a knife in the back and slander in front of microphones, a far cry from the underpaid firefighters who repeatedly sacrificed their lives for our safety last year.

Sara Kovač

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