Widespread strikes disrupt services in North Macedonia

A strike by government workers in North Macedonia has disrupted services over a pay dispute between unions and the country’s center-left government fueled by high inflation

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — A strike by government workers in North Macedonia disrupted services Wednesday over a pay dispute between unions and the country’s center-left government fueled by high inflation.

Police associations, health care workers, municipal employees and others joined the strike, leaving essential services running with emergency staffing levels.

The National Federation of Trade Unions, or SSM, in North Macedonia is demanding pay increases for public sector workers after inflation increased for a ninth straight month in May to reach a 14-year high of 11.9 %, up from 10.5 % in April. The average monthly wage in the country is around 480 euros ($500).

“We need that money because of double-digit inflation, price shocks and the announced energy crisis,” SSM leader Darko Dimovski said.

In the center of the capital, Skopje, protesters left 120 empty chairs in front of parliament Wednesday, matching the number of the country’s lawmakers. The 24-hour rolling strikes were launched after a parliamentary budget committee failed to comply with union demands for a proposed salary adjustment scale. The strike disrupted mostly administrative services. Flights at the country's main international airport, in Skopje, weren't immediately affected.

Government officials said they were seeking a “a systemic, but not an ad hoc solution” to address the growing cost of living crisis.

“We maintain our position that harmonization based on minimum wage should be applied. It needs to be well defined and follow a wage-growth program that does not return to the same debate we have been having for 30 years,” said Fatmir Bitiqi, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs.

North Macedonia, whose population is about 1.8 million people, has more than 130,000 employees in the state administration.