Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
In an unprecedented lawsuit, ex-Lithuanian émigré is suing the state of Lithuania over the pension she is to receive in Lithuania. At 190 euro, the pension, she claims, is too little to make ends meet.
Plaintiff insists it humiliates her human dignity and is against a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights saying that an insufficient pension violates person’s right to dignity and needs to be deemed as belittling the person.
348 euroz needed to satisfy basic needs
Ona Rimkienė, the 61-year-old claimant, who has spent 11 years in emigration in the United Kingdom, asks the Administrative Court of Vilnius District to raise her pension from 190 euro now to 348 euro. She had toiled most of her life as a white collar worker in Lithuania before leaving to England in search of a better life. She says she would get paid around 900 pounds before tax deductions there.
«I am hurt by the state of Lithuania-set pension, at 190 euro now. If it is raised up to 348 euro, I would be able to elementarily take care of my nourishment and accommodation in Šeškinė (a district of Vilnius-L.J). The sum of 190 euro makes me feel bad, it hurts my self-esteem. Moreover, because of it, I feel fear and think of committing suicide,» Mrs. Ona told judge in the first court sitting.
Such litigation is the first of the kind in Lithuania and, if successful for plaintiff, it is thought to have wide ramifications.
At roughly 240 euro as average, the Lithuanian pension is one of the very lowest in Eastern Europe, exceeding only those in Bulgaria and Romania.
The average pension in neighbouring Latvia is 40 euro higher than in Lithuania and, in Estonia, it is a hundred euro up from that in Lithuania.
One deserves a decent living
Asked by judge how she makes it through with the pension, Rimkienė told she ekes out with the savings earned in the UK and complained she had no relatives to help her.
Plaintiff revealed in the first court sitting she will be eligible to a UK pension only in approximately five years.
Queried by judge why she after 11 years abroad wants to receive a bigger pension that most Lithuanians with bigger work experience can only dream of, plaintiff replied she believes she has right for «a decent living» which, she claims, she deserves.
«Unfortunately, in Lithuania, there is large social isolation and exclusion. Each human who has worked a certain time and has a required work experience has to be entitled for a decent life,» she insisted.
The pensioner handed judge certificates on taxes she has to pay each month for heat, electricity, water supply and wastewater treatment, as well as other documentation on her expenditures.
For example, for the month of December, Rimkienė was billed 90 euro for heat and hot water, 16 euro- other services, cable TV cost 12 euro, cold water- 4 euro, electricity- 18 euro.
Added up with the money spent for medicine she says she had only 1 euro and 40 cents left her for food per day.
«It is impossible to make a living with the money. I believe that even a dog cannot be maintained with the sum. Let’s not forget I have to see hairdresser, clean the house and visit cinema theatre at least once a month,» she argued tearful.
After coming back to Lithuania at the end of last year, she says she is not planning now on leaving the country again.
«Lithuania is my country, my motherland to which I have given my best years,» she claimed.
Chances in Lithuanian courts do no look good
Her attorney Stanislovas Tomas counts on the ruling by the European Court of Human Right, one saying that too a little pension violates a human’s right to dignity.
Lithuania has not addressed the European court’s ruling in any way so far; aware of that, Rimkienė’s legal representative admits that the lawsuit stands a little chance in a Lithuanian court.
«The only court that can help my client is the European Court of Human Rights. But first we need to formally pass through the chain of Lithuanian courts, a normal procedure before filing a case in Strasbourg,» he was quoted as saying by Lithuanian media.
The Strasbourg court had ruled in favor of two Russian retirees who asserted that the pension they receive allows them to live only from hand to mouth.
«Like Larioshina and Budina, the Russian nationals who applied to the European Court, we expect to win the case, too,» attorney is confident.
Summoned to testify, a representative of Lithuania’s State Social Insurance Fund, told court that, according to the Law on Social Insurance Pension, the size of pension depends on the work experience and insured income.
Courts will defend state, not its citizen
The Administrative Court of Vilnius District will announce ruling in the lawsuit in the beginning of February.
Most lawyers, however, are rather skeptic about the Vilnius pensioner’s prospects in the lawsuit.
« If court rules in favor of the woman, a number of other lawsuits of the kind will inevitably follow. But I doubt whether this will happen. More likely, I believe, judges will stick with the principle of proportion. It means that court will likely rule that the state cannot be held responsible for higher pensions if it fails to collect enough money for social welfare,» Vytautas Korsakas, lawyer, told BNN. « I don’t think Lithuanian courts will want to set a precedent for the entire army of Lithuanian retirees,» he added.
This month, in the meeting with Cabinet members, Lithuanian President Grybauskaitė has singled out three groups of issues that the Government needs to address before the parliamentary elections in October.
Besides the problems of emigration and possible new recession she also discerned a number of social issues, including small pensions in the country.
«The Government has to do whatever it takes to increase population’s labour occupancy, secure economy growth and financial stability, as well as reduce social exclusion,» the state of head told the ministers.
Lithuanian President supports indexation of pensions
Speaking of the Government’s new social model, Grybauskaitė insisted it has to be complete and acceptable to all social groups.
«The pensions we have remain the littlest in the region. Therefore the Government’s priority has to be that the growth of economy should be tangible by every person. The indexation of pensions- the draft so far sits in the Parliament- corresponding the state’s financial capabilities has to be discussed and certain decisions need to be passed,» the President urged.