Court sentence over unpaid wages could cost millions to state

Latvia's High Court has satisfied a claim by a former fireman to be paid for the hours he had to spend at his workplace during breaks, even though nominally he wasn't 'at work'. As the sentence applies to everyone who worked under the model, the state will have to pay compensations of several dozen million euros, reported Latvian Television Saturday.

Fireman Raimonds Kučinskis took action against the model when it was first introduced ten years ago, when rules were adopted stipulating that the time nominally marked for breaks but during which firemen weren't allowed to leave their workplace wouldn't be logged as work hours. At first he had thought it's a mistake that would be speedily repealed.

"We were in our uniforms [during breaks], in work premises, and we could have responded to a call at any time, so it's difficult to grasp how exactly those could have been breaks," said Kučinskis.

His claim went to court in 2012, rejected in the first instance but approved by an administrative court. The Fire and Rescue Service appealed the sentence, which subsequently went to the High Court, which finalized the sentence of the administrative court. 

The Fire and Rescue Service is not the only institution affected by the ruling. Similar arrangements prohibiting employees to leave the office during work hours have been set at the Border Guard and the Latvian Prison Administration. 

The Interior Ministry claims the sentence applies to some 2,500 people, who now are ruled to have been working overtime for years in some cases. 

The ministry will turn to the government to request funds for the compensations and says that covering them could cost some several dozen million euros, potentially slowing down the proposed wage increase and the availability of social services. 

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