Polish MPs have voted to give themselves a pay rise of almost, as well as to grant even bigger increases to the president, prime minister and other members of the cabinet. The legislation also provides the president’s spouse with a salary for the first time.
In a rare display of cross-party unity in an often bitterly divided parliament, almost 90% of MPs voted in favour of the bill, including those of the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, the main centrist opposition, Civic Platform (PO), and the Left (Lewica).
Supporters of the legislation argue that salaries for public positions do not adequately reflect the responsibilities they entail. Critics say that, even if this is true, the coronavirus pandemic and resultant economic crisis make this a poor moment for officials to be awarding themselves pay rises.
Under the proposed new system, the salaries of members of both chambers of parliament – the Sejm and Senate – would increase from the current level of 8,000 (€1,800) zloty per month gross to almost 12,600 zloty – an increase of 58%.
Ministers would see their pay increase by 78%, to 18,000 zloty, while the prime minister would earn 22,000 zloty, double the current salary.
The president would more than double his earnings, from 12,600 to 26,000 zloty. The president’s spouse, meanwhile, would receive a salary for the first time in history, set at 18,000 zloty per month.
By comparison, around half of Poles earn under 4,100 zloty per month, the median gross wage, according to Statistics Poland (GUS), a state agency. The average salary is 5,000 zloty and the minimum monthly wage is 2,600 zloty.
In the justification for the new bill, the authors argue that the salaries of those holding public functions have “remained at a low level, disproportionate to the increase in the average or minimum wage” and to “the [level] of responsibility borne” by senior officials.
The levels of the new salaries are calculated by a formula related to the earnings of Supreme Court judges. An MP, for example, earns 63% as much as a judge, while the president gets 30% more.
The president’s spouse, meanwhile, will receive 90% of a judge’s wage. Although the legislation provides a salary for the first lady/gentleman for the first time, it does not outline any responsibilities for the position.
The new legislation also increases state funding for political parties by 50%. The amount they receive is based on their performance in elections. So, for example, PiS sees its funding jump from 23.3 million zloty to 34.9 million, while the Left goes from 11.4 million zloty to 17.1 million.
The bill was pushed through the Sejm very quickly last night and today. In the final vote, it received the support of 386 MPs, while only 33 voted against it and 15 others abstained.
It now passes to the Senate, which can delay the legislation and propose amendments to it. These can, however, be rejected by a majority in the more powerful Sejm. The bill must finally be signed by the president, Andrzej Duda, to become law.
— Krzysztof Bosak 🇵🇱 (@krzysztofbosak) August 14, 2020
In four of the five political groupings in parliament, an overwhelming majority of MPs voted in favour of the bill. The exception was the far-right Confederation (Konfederacja), whose 11 members were unanimously opposed.
There were, however, rebellions within some of the groupings, with MPs from Together (Razem), one of the constituents of the Left, and Kukiz’15, which is part of a PSL-Kukiz’15 group, voting against the rises.
Krzysztof Bosak, a Confederation MP and its presidential candidate in this year’s election, tweeted that the vote was evidence that “mainstream parties consult among themselves behind the backs of voters”.
He claimed they had pushed the bill through now because it will not attract so much attention during the August holiday period and because voters will “forget about it” by the time the next elections – scheduled for 2023 – come around.
The head of PiS’s parliamentary caucus, Ryszard Terlecki, admitted to TVN24 that the legislation was “a joint decision by all parliamentary caucuses to settle this problem”. He added that “the fact that Supreme Court judges earn more than the president or the prime minister is unacceptable”.
Asked if now, during the coronavirus crisis, was a good moment to implement this policy, Terlecki responded that “there is never a good [time]” to do it
He noted that parties would receive a total of 140 million additional state funding during the current parliamentary term, at a time when “we are in the middle of a crisis: companies are closing, people are losing their life savings, the situation in the health service is a catastrophe and Poland is facing a record budget shortfall”.
Do końca tej kadencji partie mają nas kosztować więcej o co najmniej 140 mln zł! W środku kryzysu. Zamykane są firmy, ludzie tracą oszczędności życia, sytuacja w ochronie zdrowia woła o pomstę do nieba, a Polskę czeka rekordowa dziura budżetowa. #Polska2050 głosowałaby przeciw. pic.twitter.com/Lwgdh5kUdA
— Szymon Hołownia (@szymon_holownia) August 14, 2020
Donald Tusk, the former PO prime minister and president of the European Council, tweeted sarcastically that the bill arrived with “perfect timing: giving huge pay rises on the anniversary of the 1980 strike [that led to the creation of Solidarity], during a revolution in our nearest neighbour, at the height of the pandemic, when a deep recession is beginning”.
PiS previously proposed raising salaries in 2016, shortly after it returned to power. It argued that the increase was merited because the levels of pay had been frozen since 2008. However, although the increases were lower than now, the party backed down following public anger and opposition criticism.
Subsequently, in 2018, MPs actually voted to lower their salaries by 20%. The decision was prompted by a scandal that struck the PiS government when it emerged that ministers had been paying themselves generous bonuses, causing public outrage.