BANJA LUKA Public sector workers from across Bosnia's Serb Republic went on strike on Monday in the first big protest of 2013 against government spending cuts.
Trade unions said teachers, policemen, judicial and tax office workers had walked off the job after the regional government went ahead with a 10 percent pay cut imposed as part of an austerity budget.
The government had sought a six-month moratorium on any industrial action and promised to increase public employees' wages in the second half of the year if revenues rose.
"The government proposal is unacceptable. Our aim is not to strike but to use it as a mean to protect our rights," union leader Ranka Misic told Reuters.
She said that following the one-day strike, workers would fulfil their minimum duties while waiting for the government to come up with an acceptable solution.
Average monthly pay for teachers and policemen in the Serb Republic ranges between 800 and 1,100 Bosnian marka ($545-$750).
Bosnia's two autonomous regions, the Serb Republic and the Bosniak-Croat federation adopted tight 2013 budgets last month, meeting conditions set by the International Monetary Fund.
That cleared the way for the Fund to release a $78 million tranche from Bosnia's 405 million euros ($538.31 million) two-year standby loan facility.
The two Bosnian regions, which are linked via a weak umbrella central government, need the IMF cash to plug their budget deficits and support their economic programmes as the crisis in the neighbouring euro-zone slows demand.
The Fund has demanded that the consolidated government budget deficit, including regional and central budgets, be set at 2.5 percent of gross domestic product this year. It forecasts economic growth of 0.5 percent in 2013 following a 0.7 percent contraction last year.
($1 = 1.467 Bosnian marka)
($1 = 0.7524 euros)
(Reporting by Gordana Katana; Writing by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Catherine Evans)