The lower chamber or Parliament also voted down the Senate's veto of an amendment banning the privatisation of regional hospitals. The senior ruling Social Democrats and main opposition Communist party, who united to uphold the ban, argue that if privatised, hospitals would focus on lucrative treatments, which would threaten the quality of general health care. The centre-right Civic Democrats reject that argument and say they may file a compliant to the Constitutional Court to have it reversed, should President Vaclav Klaus sign the bill into law.
Austria has extended until 2009 the transition period during which Czech nationals must seek approval to work in that neighbouring European Union country. The Minister of Economics for Austria, Martin Bartenstein, said the possibility that in it could be extended again in three year's time could not be ruled out. Ahead of EU expansion last year, Austria and most other original 15 EU member states imposed restricted access to their labour markets for newcomers like the Czech Republic.
The lower house of Parliament passed an amendment to the labour law on Friday that would reward employers who create so-called "socially beneficial" jobs for fresh university graduates, handicapped people, and those younger than twenty-five or over the age of fifty. According to the Labour Office, people of those ages make up one-third to one-half of the unemployed nationwide.
A poll by the STEM agency found that only one in four Czechs want the ratification process for the EU constitution to continue. Four out of ten respondents said that the ratification process should be suspended, and nearly as many said they thought it should simply end. So far, 12 countries have ratified the treaty. Prague has joined several other capitals that have delayed or suspended plans to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution. These including London, Dublin and Copenhagen.
The business daily Hospodarske noviny reports that the newly named Minister of Culture, Vitezslav Jandak, co-established a charitable foundation with indirect ties to an Israeli mafia family. In 2001, Mr Jandak helped form the 'Little Lion' (Lvice) foundation with people connected to a now defunct casino owned by the Abutbul crime family. The casino was shut down in 2004 after police began investigating its origins, following a failed attempt to kill its de facto owner. Casinos are required by law to donate a share of proceeds to charity. A bill now in Parliament would prevent casinos from donating to related organisations.
The Constitutional Court has acknowledged the Czech citizenship of the late Hugo Salm, opening the way for a large scale restitution of property. The court overturned an earlier verdict of the Supreme Court according to which Salm had not been a Czechoslovak citizen and the confiscation of his property on the basis of the post-war Benes decrees could not be legally questioned. The Constitutional Court overturned this ruling on the grounds of a certificate from March of 1946, which confirmed Salm's citizenship. His heirs may now lay claim to 7,000 hectars of land in south Moravia as well as the Rajec nad Svitavou chateau.
Parliament has passed in its second reading a proposed amendment to the law which would motivate the unemployed to seek jobs more actively. The bill would lower the subsistence level, thereby lowering social benefits for the unemployed. It would also lower the amount of financial support given to people with large families allegedly to prevent parents from living off their children. Romany representatives have slammed the proposal calling it racist and discriminatory and arguing that many of them cannot find work no matter how hard they try.
The Cabinet has approved a long term plan which would improve the living conditions of handicapped people and help them to integrate in society. The plan provides for a gradual removal of the existing obstacles which prevent the handicapped from attending common schools, using public transport and getting jobs. Further measures are to help handicapped people to receive home care wherever possible. The plan, which is to be put into effect between 2006 and 2009, involves over 120 steps for individual ministries to make in their respective sectors, as well as changes in legislation.
The Education Ministry has adopted a new plan that hopes to increase the number of Roma children from low-income families in secondary schools. Educational institutions have until the end of September to apply for up to 7,000 crowns (approx. 290 US dollars) to cover a Roma student's expenses for the period from September to December. These include tuition fees, and food and travel expenses. All applications will be processed by a special education ministry committee with representatives from regional offices, the ministries of interior and labour and social affairs, and the Government Council for Roma Affairs. The ministry has earmarked 10 million crowns (approx 420,000 US dollars) for this project.
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