Discussing Politicians’ and Officials’ Salaries in Poland

jabberwocky381 via flickr || CC 2.0

The Polish Parliamentarians, Ministers, the Prime Minister, and the President are all normal employees. The only difference is that they have been hired by the public. For their work, an adequate remuneration should be paid.

The scandal around the salaries in Poland in the state administration, state-owned eterprises (SOEs), and organizations dependent on public money (eg. Polish National Foundation) extends and begins to be quite cartoonish. This is due to some mixed up titles and their legal basis. The most commonly used components of the salary entered into a contract of employment are: basic salary, duty allowance, bonuses and rewards for the length of service.

The salaries of people involved in executive positions, listed exhaustively in the law and regulation of the President of the Republic of Poland have only two components: the basic salary and the special duty allowance. The Polish law does not allow for any bonuses or prizes. It also remains unclear in terms of the legal basis for the payment of retirement allowance. Therefore, we need to separate the explicit violation of the law by former Prime Minister Beata Szydło, who granted awards to the people whose earnings have been rigidly specified by the law, with the payments of the premiums for civil servants. These, in fact, belong to them because they signed contracts of employment.

Leaving it on the side of the criminal liability of the former Prime Minister and the need to return to the Treasury the misused or misappropriately issued quotas, we might want to consider the size of the remuneration offered to the people holding state positions.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the Law and Justice (PiS) party, clearly wanted to cover the tax offense of his Government. In order to do this he pompously announced a reduction of payments to MPs and local government officials (discreetly apart from Ministers), arguing it is in the service of the role carried out by these functions. Does the proposal of a reduction in these salaries actually show “the will of the people”? Whether voters will enjoy the fact that their representatives may “not be able to make ends meet”, as stated by Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin? Or perhaps by “serving” the country for a low salary, officials will seek additional compensation “under the table”?

Salary Is Not a Handout

Wages should be directly related to the responsibilities and the necessary competences to exercise a given profession. If we do not want to treat deputies and senators as puppets, we need to take care of the selection of adequate future decision-makers so MEPs and Ministers will not be selected because of former merits or the faithful execution of the will of the Chair of the party.

The salaries of these people who are important for th whole state pose a problem not only in Poland. Monthly salaries of parliamentarians vary across the European Union: from EU 57 thousands a month in Italy, EUR 41 thousands in Austria, and EUR 30 thousands in the countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries, to Romania and Bulgaria, where they are at the level of app. EUR 6 thousands. Polish MPs earn just like their colleagues in Lithuania, Hungary, and the Czech Republic (app. EUR 10 thousands). The level of the salary in each state is rather loosely related to the average salary in the country. Record holders are the Italian parliamentarians, whose salaries are 5.3 times higher than the national average salary. In Lithuania the rate is 4.3, in Estonia it is 3.9. The lowest rate is in Malta, where the salary of MPs is almost the same as the average wage in the country.

The remuneration of parliamentarians matters, but even more controversy arouse the salaries of Ministers and, above all, the leaders of the state administration. Here, depending on a Member State, disparities are even greater.

World record in 2015 year annual salary held President of Singapore – USD 1.76 million. Second place belonged to the President of Hong Kong – USD 576 thousand. Third came the President of Switzerland – USD 460 thousand. The EU record holders were the leaders of Austria (USD 343 thousand), Luxembourg (USD 255 thousand), and Germany (USD 244 thousand). Only slightly worse off were the leaders of Belgium, Sweden, and Denmark (app. USD 240 thousand). The salaries were even lower in Ireland, the UK, and the Netherlands (app. USD 200 thousand).

As you can see, the salaries of the politicians governing Poland (President with app. USD 71 thousand, gross per annum; and Prime Minister with app. USD 58 thousand) are not especially high in comparison. They are at a similar leve to the salaries of the Prime Ministers of the countries such as Hungary (app. USD 65 thousand per year), Spain (app. USD 78 thousand), Portugal (app. USD 58 thousand) or Romania (app. USD 61 thousand).

Low salaries of Polish Ministers became an excuse for frequently awarding the Ministers illegal bonuses based on the fact that they supposedly “deserved it” for their work. Underpaid parliamentarians will also not be immune to the arguments of lobbyists. Others will probably bend the rules and thus might, for example, claim that the additional payment was actually a reimbursement for their trips abroad.

What should, in fact, determine the level of the abovementioned officials’ salaries should be the available data on the wages of people with similar competencies. According to the 2017 Antal Salary Report, Senior Manager earns on average USD 21 thousand per month, while the professionals and managers in such fields as law, finance, and banking earn app. USD 2800 monthly.

By adopting such a rule as the basis for the level of salary of public officials, we need to acknowledge the fact that a person performing public service is selected only for several years, and therefore “leaves behind” their original profession. Moreover, these several “gap years” also stunt their professional careers.

Therefore, basing the average earnings of parliamentarians and public officers (President, Prime Minister, Ministers, etc.) on the salaries of medium-level managers seems like a reasonable solution. Such a “base” should be then multiplied by the specified factor of 1.5 to 2.5, depending on the position.

Let’s Put and End to a Negative Selection

All Polish Government officials deserve to receive a salary equivalent to their competences and responsibilities. MPs, the Prime Minister, and the President are regular employees hired by the people to do their jobs. For their work they must receive adequate remuneration. If the salary is further reduced, Polish politics will embrace mostly the politicians of the likes of Antoni Macierewicz, Krystyna Pawlowicz or Dominik Tarczyński, people who are “on the mission” and are hungry of power no matter the cost.

We need to start a substantial debate on the salaries of those holding executive positions. We must ensure that the salary is not replaced with party privileges. Such a debate should also focus on the salaries of local government officials. And, above all, it should emphasize that the pay should be decided by the voters, not the the Chair of any party.

Piotr Misilo