The security field, including interior affairs, is one of the priorities in the 2024 state budget. In total, EUR 27 million has been allocated to the Interior services next year, EUR 10 million has been earmarked for paying for intensive work for increased supervision of the border, while approximately EUR 2.6 million has been allocated to the State fire and Rescue Service for the creation of new jobs.
There is a shortage of more than 1,700 police officers in the State Police. The most critical situation is in the Rīga region, where the shortage is 41% and some districts have even over half of the posts vacant. The situation will probably deteriorate further, as there have been more departures from the service for years than arrivals. Since 2020, 1,600 departed, but around 900 police officers have joined the forces.
State Police Chief Armands Ruks explained that someone has to do the job anyway, which means overtime. But it's not a way to work for a long time.
“So far, we're managing. There are separate stories where we have not done as well as we would like, but the overall picture is that the tasks are fulfilled and we will do everything to continue to fulfill them. At the same time, this situation, which is building and continuing, must be stopped. So there needs to be a stop at the near-zero balance and an increase to achieve stability,“ Ruks noted.
According to surveys of those quitting, pay is the biggest problem. This year the salary was raised. On average, it rose from EUR 1,142 to EUR 1,256 before tax, but together with compensations and allowances, for example for overtime, thus working more, the remuneration is slightly above EUR 1,700 on average. But the increase is not felt that much as there are no longer Covid-time bonuses.
The Home Affairs Workers Union also said the new police officers had significantly lower salaries.
“If we compare the income between the cadets of the National Armed Forces and the State Police College, the difference is 50%. But age-wise, fitness, they're the same. And for people who graduate from high school, they may be attracted by the service, but they are shown that there are 600 euros [at the police college] around and 900 [at the National Armed Forces], the choice is obvious,“ said Armands Augustāns head of the Latvian Home Affairs Workers Union.
This was also highlighted by the police leadership, calling the financial gap between external and internal security unfair and illogical.
“Because security is something we need to look at as a whole. We can make that shell beautiful and funded from the outside, but if inside we have all that content weak, which is interior affairs, which is organized crime, which is order, security, which is the everyday things we face if we don't have officers there, no matter what we're accused of, then big big problems are going to start,“ said Ruks.
Next year's budget, allocating 23.9 million, envisages wage increases for all interior services, including firefighters and border guards - this will mean a 10% increase in wages for a police officer on average. But defense services will still earn more. Initially, the negotiations had even seemed hopeful, but in the actual budget figures, hopes faded.
Augustāns concluded: “It is common for politicians to promise, and that is also, most likely, the only thing they can do. When we, as a trade union, have come up with some sort of solution, to withdraw from something or to find some kind of compromise [..], it looks like they don't want to hear where they can find that money, and that's how it stays.“
Although proposals to increase the government's calculated amount were also included in last week's budget discussions in the Saeima, the Parliament did not increase wage funding. The most important sectors, including domestic affairs, have already had their funds litigated.
“And we have also received a remark from the European Commission that our budget deficit is on the upper limit, so finding additional funds would be relatively difficult,” said Jānis Reirs (New Unity), chairman of the Saeima Budget and Tax Commission.
The current Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis promises to achieve wage increases for the interior services, but pointed out that the necessary funding to do this next year could not be found. “It is clear that the calculation is large – more than EUR 200 million. And one must be aware that from this year to next, it was impossible. It was probable if we had taken everything away from the health sector,“ he said.