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Spanish police in pay cut dispute

Traffic police in Spain are giving offending motorists warnings instead of fines as part of a dispute over a pay cut.

Their unofficial action is raising concerns about whether road safety is being jeopardised in one of Europe's top tourism destinations. The number of traffic deaths last weekend, for instance, was the highest so far this year.

In June, the first month after government salaries were reduced 5% as part of an austerity plan, the number of traffic tickets handed out by patrol officers fell by nearly 50% compared to the same period in 2009, according to figures from the Civil Guard highway department.

Official numbers for July are not yet out but news reports say the go-easy policy has continued.

The traffic police have officially admitted they are going easy on drivers, but their boss acknowledges it is happening.

An official with the Independent Civil Guard Association, which acts like a pseudo-guild because the Civil Guard is a paramilitary organisation and cannot join a union, said the protest began spontaneously after the pay cut was announced, and then spread.

"There is a generalised bad feeling," said the official.

The 10,000-strong Civil Guard traffic department was already annoyed because its officers earn less than other police in Spain - their salaries run from £1,300 to £1,500 a month - and have not seen the extra staff promised by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Then in April the department circulated a money saving memo urging officers to use their radios more, rather than mobile phones, and spend more time parked watching for traffic offences instead of being on patrol all the time.

The pay cut seems to have been the last straw, said the association official.

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